When Allen Tinkham conducted the Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestra on March 8 of 2020, he didn’t know it would be the last time he’d direct his young musicians in person for more than a year. Like many professions across the world, the work of orchestral conductors came to a screeching halt with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and is just now beginning to return to something that looks like normal.
Fast forward fourteen months and Tinkham is stepping back onto the stage with gifted young musicians from across the state at OSAI 2021. For the accomplished conductor and teacher, this special time with these young artists has offered a welcome reprieve from months of isolation.
“The greatest beauty of this art is that we create it in-time with other people,” he said. “We’ve all been able to at least practice at home during all this time. But the big thing that we've been missing is the opportunity for the experience of breathing together and playing together — to make a phrase together.”
Increasingly recognized as one of the most inspiring and exciting conductors and teachers of his generation, Tinkham’s expert direction has offered OSAI students a life-changing opportunity they wouldn’t get in their hometown music programs. “I couldn’t have imagined this when I was [their] age,” he said. “This is one of the reasons that I am so thrilled to be here right now."
“Don’t let yourself get calloused. It’s very hard for me to pour myself out on stage and then come off stage and have to deal with the ugliness of the world again. But that’s life. It’s that ugliness that gives us a reason to exist and do this, because someone needs to try and make it beautiful.”
- Allen Tinkham, OSAI 2021 Orchestra Conductor
In his twenty-first season as Music Director of the Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestras (CYSO), Tinkham has led the CYSO Symphony Orchestra in its Carnegie Hall debut, first live broadcast, first recording release and seven international tours. His experience guiding young people through the twists and turns of their artistic journeys has left the educator with lots of sound advice for aspiring professional musicians.
Chief among Tinkham’s insights for teenage artists is the importance of listening. “It’s the most important thing any of us ever do,” he said. “How can you react intelligently to any situation until you have taken in what the situation is? How can you respond intelligently in any conversation if you're not listening to the other person?”
Beyond training that sensitivity to new information, Tinkham tells his students to take in as much outside their discipline as they can. “There’s nothing that you don’t need to know,” he said. “I mean, you have to practice hard; you have to do what your teachers tell you; you have to build your skills. You’ll probably have to struggle for a while, but the more you have in you besides music, the deeper your music will be. So read. Think. Put down that little black mirror, occasionally.”
Ultimately, though, Tinkham’s advice for young musicians is to keep their hearts open in a world that is not always kind — a lesson drawn into sharp relief by the trials and tribulations of the last 14 months.
“Don’t let yourself get calloused,” he said. "It’s very hard for me to pour myself out on stage and then come off stage and have to deal with the ugliness of the world again. But that’s life. It’s that ugliness that gives us a reason to exist and do this, because someone needs to try and make it beautiful.”
For a complete list of OSAI 2021 faculty, click here.
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