Artistic Director Carter Simmons is a legend in the hallways of MYAC. From his skill at weaving humor into the musical experience, otherwise known as “Carterisms,” to his expectations of excellence and his gift of communication, Mr. Simmons’ impact on MYSO is immeasurable. Here are a few of his reflections from his first 25 years at MYSO.
MYSO: You’ve seen thousands of students during your tenure here. What has changed over the years, and what, if anything, remains the same?
MR. SIMMONS: What hasn’t changed is the reason why we’re here–to make music. In addition, there’s always a robust social element that results in new and closer friendships. The root of everything, however, is a first-rate musical experience. What engages young people today is exactly the same thing that hooked me 20 to 30 years ago.
It’s the sounds, the energy in the rehearsals and halls, the conductor, the music-making, friends, the general commotion of the ensemble. Everything combines into a strong visceral experience which is very moving.
MYSO: What exactly is a “Carterism?”
MR. SIMMONS: Well, I am not sure when all this started, but apparently I tried my hand at wit in rehearsal. The kids noticed…and took notes! Every conductor uses phrases to help engage students’ focus and interest or to address something technically in the music. For me, I guess a “Carterism” is whatever you can do to help the kids stay focused and have fun in what can be a serious environment.
MYSO: Can you speak a little bit more about the environment you try to create for your students?
MR. SIMMONS: When young musicians come to a rehearsal at MYSO, they need to feel that we are all working together to achieve something greater than ourselves. I recognize the special brilliance about this exceptional grouping of students—each is gifted and wonderful in their own way, many are academic superstars as well as being gifted young musicians. In every interaction, I work first to understand what students are confronting, not only on their instrument and in these rehearsals, but in their lives outside of MYSO. If I start with respecting who they are and what else they have in their busy lives, I have a better chance to help them achieve their best musical experience in rehearsal and performance.
MYSO: You’ve accompanied MYSO on many international tours in your 25 years with the organization. What was one of your most memorable moments on tour?
MR. SIMMONS: Having the opportunity to conduct in Xi’an, China (2007), definitely stands out. It was an honor to be a part of the tour, and I am thankful Margery Deutsch asked me to share in the conducting of the orchestra. Most of the people in the Xi’an audience had never been to an orchestra concert before. They loved the kids’ energy and the concert ended in a standing ovation with multiple encores. The energy was different from any other kind of audience I’ve experienced before or since.
MYSO: How do the lessons the kids learn at MYSO translate to real life?
MR. SIMMONS: To be a musician requires the balance of expressing oneself or the thoughts of a composer, while being poised and reserved. It requires a balance between knowledge, intellect, and passion. Our musical skills can translate into anything in life—interacting with others, doing one’s work well, raising a family. Each of us find the right balance to be successful in life. It’s the same in any phrase of music. Balance of strength, passion, structure, tempo…
MYSO: Thank you, Mr. Simmons, for helping to shape MYSO into one of the most respected youth orchestras in the nation.
To commemorate Mr. Simmons’ milestone 25th anniversary with MYSO, please consider a donation in his honor.