Kate Withrow first picked up the violin at age five, but those early lessons didn’t always go so well for the precocious youngster. In fact, she says she remembers “throwing temper tantrums, everything, it was terrible.”
“And I hated it for the first seven years. I hated practicing, I never wanted to practice and then eventually it became, you know, I developed a sense of ownership over it,” she says.
It was a connection she felt to the music’s history and tradition, melded with her own personal expression. She continued to study the violin through college, she found acclaim for her performances and eventually she went pro. She’s now a section violinist for the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra, the LPO. Withrow is also the head of the LPO’s education committee, and it’s in this role where she helps give today’s young students the opportunities that so profoundly influenced her life.
“Once you get to that moment and see that moment in another student it’s just magical,” she says. “I think that’s what we’re all in this business for. Whether it’s jazz music or classical music, it’s that moment of creation.”
These moments are made possible for school children across a 12-parish region around New Orleans thanks to a far-reaching education initiative from the LPO. The orchestra hosts more than 30 educational concerts through the year, and it provides teacher’s guides and lesson plans to help educators tie in the musical experiences with grade level curriculum goals.
“This is where I see our orchestra and our musicians as a resource, to help them, you know. What can we do to really help you guys do what you really want or need in your school?” says Amanda Wuerstlin, the LPO’s education director.
She points to the orchestra’s Early Explorers program, where students from pre-kindergarten to first grade get to check out individual instruments up close, followed by a concert designed just for them around themes like colors or animals or the alphabet, themes they recognize from their classroom brought to life through music. Then there’s the LPO’s Young People’s Concerts, where the students themselves are invited to play with the orchestra.
“We’ve had a big spike in our attendance, actually, because it’s a much more engaging process, when the kids are like ‘I’m playing with the LPO today! I’m so excited!’” she says.
Will some of these students be inspired to follow Kate Withrow’s example and pursue a classical music career? Maybe. But Withrow herself feels the potential impact of music education like this is much broader.
“Everybody talks about Steve Jobs and how he took the daring to make something that nobody thought was possible. That takes a creative skill that is lacking in our educational system right now,” she says. “Ideally the arts, pursing an instrument or learning about music, at its best does that for a child. It teaches the child they can do something they thought was impossible. They can play a song and make it red or blue or yellow or make it sound like an elephant or make up something themselves, to improvise, compose something themselves and see that they can actually be a creator in this world.”
Written by Ian McNulty for the Community IMPACT Series and produced by WWNO in partnership with the Greater New Orleans Foundation. To learn more about the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra’s education outreach programs click here.