"I grew up in a house where my Dad was a phenomenal music freak. He had a massive record collection and music was always on at home. My first instrument was voice. I was lucky enough to attend a choir school in New York and was a soprano soloist at a very young age. After that, I studied piano and violin, and played rock guitar in a band. I entered the New England Conservatory of Music as a composition student. I went through a creative crisis in my second year, as I was more interested in studying the music of the masters than in composing my own. That's what drew me into analysis and theory and, ultimately, conducting.
"I first came to D.C. in 2004 to be the Director of Orchestral Activities and conductor of the American University Symphony Orchestra. The Dean of Academic Affairs at American called my attention to the DC Youth Orchestra. It so happened that the DC Youth Orchestra was looking for a conductor for their top orchestra. I applied. Now, here I am. This is my first experience working with kids this young, but it's been a nice adjustment. They're very serious about what they're doing.
"We have over 600 students from 4 1/2 to 21 years old. The orchestra is diverse geographically, and we have kids of all ethnicities, races and religions. It's a rainbow organization. The mission of this organization is that we turn no one away. The student has to have interest and a sense of responsibility. We do the rest. We even provide instruments if they can't afford them. The DC Youth Orchestra is a twelve-level program. Every year, we start with a petting zoo of kids who are all two feet tall. They pick an instrument that speaks to them and, usually, they stick with it. We have a lot of kids who are lifers. They come in early and stick with it all the way through high school. This program becomes a very meaningful and essential part of their lives.
"We can boast that 100 percent of our students graduate from high school and most of them go to college. Some even go on to the great musical conservatories. One of the things we take great pride in is the values our students learn by being exposed to the great musical idea, rehearsing as an ensemble, and taking responsibility for themselves. All of these things serve them well in life. There are a number of studies which demonstrate that kids who grow up doing music really wind up excelling in life. Music teaches fundamental values that apply across all disciplines."