Mariel Reynolds  

Atlanta Symphony's Community Engagement Programs

Mariel Reynolds
February 20, 2019

Editor's Abstract (Click to Hide)

I met Mariel at a League seminar, "On the Road to Civic Stature" at the 2007 conference in Nashville. She had a lot to say during the seminar about the community engagement activities ongoing at the Atlanta Symphony. I invited her to contribute an article, explaining in more depth what the ASO is doing with their community engagement programs, and describing how the symphony is partnering with local community organizations.

- Ann Drinan
Over the past 11 years The Atlanta Symphony Orchestra has conducted and built an extensive education and community engagement (CE) program. The effort was started jointly by Allison Vulgamore, the ASO’s President and Managing Director, and a group of ASO musicians and board members. Originally named “Partners in Performance,” the offerings were centered around three major program areas: Young Classical Musicians, which provided in-school coaching and performance to area middle and high school ensembles; Neighborhood & Community Partnerships, which created community chamber concert series around the city, and Community Service Partnerships, which partnered the ASO with the United Way and Boys & Girls Clubs of Metro Atlanta. Originally, these programs were all run by musicians and volunteers, however in the mid 90s, staff were added to the operations department of the ASO to help support and eventually manage the programs.

Beginning with the 2006-2007 season, the management community engagement activities were moved into the newly-established Learning Community. The ASO Learning Community holds all of the CE and educational programming the ASO conducts under the idea that all of our educational activities involve the community, and all of our community programming is educational in some way. We operate on the concept of “asset-based collaboration.” Each party in the partnership brings all of their assets to the table, and then we work together to create something authentic and unique that truly serves the needs of both the community and the orchestra. There are three shining examples of where this principle has proven both real and effective.

The first of these partnerships is our work with the Latin American Association (LAA) here in Atlanta. The LAA was founded in 1972, and is now the largest provider of services to the Latino community in metro Atlanta ( We had a mandate from the community that we should become more closely connected with the burgeoning Latino community in the city. The LAA provided access to this community, while the LAA was interested in many of the symphony’s resources. As a result, several programs have been created over the past two years, the first being the ASO-LAA After-school Violin Program. This program provides free weekly violin lessons, and free loaned instruments, to children of LAA members.

We also have created a community concert series that is designed and conducted by an ASO player who is also a member of the LAA. Our players get to perform chamber music that is different, fun and challenging, while providing programming that is instantly familiar and accessible to a constituency that are currently not regular concert goers. For example, last season we had one concert focused on the music and culture of Mexico. An ensemble of nine ASO musicians played an original work based on traditional Mexican songs, rhythms, and folk traditions. The concert concluded with the ASO musicians and a full 9-musician Mariachi band playing traditional Mexican songs together. In addition, the entire program was conducted in Spanish, and included a performance by the students in the After-school Violin Program. We are also currently working to put together a possible concert series and incentives to help bring the members of the LAA into Atlanta Symphony Hall.

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