From the time that I was three years old I knew that I loved music and the performing arts. I went to the old Metropolitan Opera House, heard African Drumming and saw ballet and Kabuki theatre all before I was 10. I knew that I wanted to be part of this world, but didn't think I wanted to be onstage or in the orchestra.
When I was in grad school at Teachers College, Columbia University - punctuated by three years of teaching music in a high school - I kept trying to find my niche and connect my passion and the thrill of the live performing arts with education and a career. Dino Anagnost, a dynamic professor of voice and choral conducting and the Music Director at The Little Orhchestra Society, made a distinct impression. He was also involved with an arts-education non-profit, then-called New York Committee for Young Audiences as Program Director and was Guest Conducting orchestra concerts for adults and for families. Suddenly it all came together for me.
I went to Dr. Anagnost's office, a bit nervous, and asked if I could be his intern and just shadow him for 6 months to see how this work came about. He asked what I hoped to do down the road as an arts professional and I remember responding with something like "just what you do." I began to work with him on professional development and curriculum for teachers in a long-term residency at a Manhattan public elementary school and was really bitten by the bug.
I was able to watch Dino Anagnost work with artists and teachers, talk to funders and school administrators, and convince them of the importance of a life filled with the arts. But not just any brand of the arts...concerts with vision, passion, unusual and quirky elements that drew the audience in and made them laugh, think and learn all at once. This was a man who knew how to dream and he dreamt big and still does. Why not call Sophia Loren and ask her to read poems by Vivaldi at a concert, or Madonna, or Helen Hayes. I learned to share that dream and go with it. I learned that there are only three answers to expect when pitching a big idea: "yes"- which is always great, "no" - not so great, and "no for now" - an invitation to keep the conversation going. When I shared this "rule of three answers" with Dino, he said this was something he actually learned from me.
Since then I have worked in some amazing organizations and created glorious programs - always keeping that vision in mind. But perhaps the most telling affirmation of Dino Anagnost's influence on my career is reflected in my current position - as Executive Director of The Little Orchestra Society, where I am working side-by-side with Dino, my friend and mentor.
Over the last several months, Dino and I have worked on some very exciting productions that remind me of why I sought Dino's mentorship in the first place. I get a tremendous thrill from the work I do, whether it's commissioning a contemporary version of Prokofiev's Cinderella, working with some of the world's greatest musicians and artists like Maria Bachmann, James Earl Jones and Mark O'Connor or bringing classical music into the classrooms of New York City public schools.
New York City audiences, both children and adults, have benefited from Dino Anagnost's passion for making great music accessible and exciting. I am fortunate enough to have worked so closely with him and to return as his creative partner all these years later. I have learned firsthand from Dino that creating the most memorable concerts imaginable is all about combining dreams with possibility and education with entertainment.
When I told him that I was going to write this piece he laughed and said - tell them that I created a "monster"...a wonderful, creative one!
January is National Mentoring Month and is spearheaded by the Harvard School of Public Health, MENTOR/National Mentoring Partnership, and the Corporation for National and Community Service. For more information on the importance of mentoring, go to www.whomentoredyou.org.
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