Schenectady, NY- Alongside twenty-five volunteers from all walks of life and professional disciplines, the Empire State Youth Orchestra is excited to inaugurate a new year of mentoring young musicians enrolled in ESYO's Young Leader Program. The program, which focuses on nurturing personal growth and youth leadership in high school-aged musicians, connects members with caring, service-minded mentors committed to empowering the next generation of leaders and inspiring a life-long love of music-making. ESYO Young Leaders serve as advisors to the organization, plan and develop community service projects, and play a critical role in ongoing conversations around diversity, equity, and inclusion practices at ESYO.
Since the start of the pandemic, members of the ESYO Young Leaders Program have curated two playlists for the community as a gift. The playlists, "Playing Through The Pause" and "A Quarantined Holiday," were published on YouTube and shared with residents at local nursing homes and hospitals. ESYO Young Leaders have also participated in fundraisers and created educational support videos for beginning ESYO members. Despite the challenges of volunteering during the pandemic, ESYO Young Leaders are eager to find ways to give back to their community in 2021. Projects include teaching their peers how to create their audition videos this spring and volunteering for Music For Change, a youth-led, non-profit movement dedicated to bringing positivity, hope, awareness, and change to the entire world through music. Inspired by the Soundwalk at SPAC, one ESYO Young Leader is looking to create her own version of a Sound Walk for the Capital Region Parks.
"We are proud of the passion and dedication of our ESYO Young Leaders," said Rebecca Calos, ESYO's Executive Director. "Their voice, experience, and their youth leadership are at the core of our organization, and the Young Leaders Program extends to them a seat at the table to be a changemaker not only in ESYO but in the community at large," she continued.
Master Sergeant Brian Sacawa, Senior Musician & Media Relations Director for The U.S. Army Field Band and first-time ESYO mentor, said, "Leaders paint a picture of what is possible and inspire those around them to turn that vision into a reality. My goal as a mentor in ESYO's Young Leader Program is to plant those seeds of curiosity, awareness, and "big picture" critical thinking. I hope that, whether music becomes their profession or remains a hobby, they can make a positive, lasting, and meaningful contribution to their community." Master Sergeant Sacawa was a member of the ESYO Symphony Orchestra and Jazz Orchestra from 1993 to 1995.
Similarly, June Criscione, an ESYO Alumni member, a community musician, and a 4th- year medical student at Yale University, said, "One of the most important skills for playing in any musical ensemble—from a duet to a symphony orchestra—is listening to other musicians. Listening is also one of the most important qualities of a mentor." When asked about what she hopes her mentee will get out of the experience, Criscione said, "I hope that I can support my mentee in discerning their own unique goals and how to achieve them. I also hope that our time together will include thinking about ways to integrate their varied interests, including music and medicine, in the realm of community outreach and other meaningful pursuits." Criscione, who was active in many ESYO ensembles, including ESYO Symphony Orchestra from 2005-2013, first met with her mentee several weeks ago and was excited to learn that they are interested in exploring a healthcare career.
ESYO Young Leader and ESYO Repertory Orchestra violinist Alyeene Zebrowski said, "This year, I am hoping to make the most out of what I can do with the current situation. My mentor has already helped me grow as a leader and as a musician. She is extremely knowledgeable in so many subjects, and she has even arranged experiences outside of music for me to participate. She has helped me to become more outgoing and more willing to try new activities that push me outside of my comfort zone."
According to Mentor NY, a state-wide partnership that supports organizations like ESYO to launch and manage mentoring programs, 1 in 3 young people in New York grow up without a mentor to nurture their daily life and help attain their educational and career goals. A survey released by Mentor NY found 78% of young people with a mentor are more likely to pay it forward by volunteering in their community. Young people with mentors are also more likely to hold leadership positions in school, clubs, and daily life. ESYO established its young leader program to empower young musicians in ESYO to build leadership skills inside and outside the concert hall.
"Young musicians are intensely passionate and creative people," said Jared Shortmeier, the ESYO Young Leaders program coordinator. "Our musicians love making music together but have interests, talents, and long-term goals that do not always involve careers in music. ESYO Young Leaders gives them a structured youth- led environment to connect those passions, explore their talents, and imagine a future for themselves," he continued. "Our mentors serve our young leaders as a kind and caring advocate and sounding board while they work to figure it out." Mentoring programs like ESYO Young Leaders build practical skills through hands-on learning and help develop soft skills, which support professional success and positive youth outcomes.
2020-2021 ESYO mentors include ESYO alumni, medical students, professional musicians, educators, attorneys, engineers, financial analysts, community leaders, and arts administrators. This year, ESYO leverages remote technology to connect mentees with mentors from across the country, including New York City, Rochester, Boston, Baltimore, Washington D.C., and Miami.
Carlos Ágreda, ESYO's Music Director and conductor of ESYO Symphony Orchestra, is one of the twenty-five mentors. "Looking back, I've benefited from many mentors who've guided me but always empowered me to realize that I am in charge of my life," said Ágreda. " It is important for young people, especially young musicians, to have someone to guide them in the discovery of their path," he continued. "Mentors helped me to see my life outside of my head, and from a perspective of experience."
ESYO Young Leaders meet online weekly to plan projects and give back to their community. Technology allows ESYO Young Leaders, like Alyeene, to routinely meet with their mentor online, anywhere in the country.
*Alumni member of the Empire State Youth Orchestra