by Michelle Hoffman
This summer, MYSO alum Lauren Roznowski joined the MYSO artistic team as music director of Sinfonia, following the retirement of Steven Rindt. Lauren spent seven years in MYSO including three in the Senior Symphony. She talks about the impact MYSO had on her as a young person, including her time in Sinfonia, the ensemble she now leads.
Sinfonia was Lauren’s first experience in a full orchestra. “When I got to this orchestra, I felt like ‘this is the big time now.’ It felt like a professional orchestra. I liked being treated as an adult; MYSO did that really well.”
She points to Carter Simmons and Steven Rindt as playing roles in shaping her musical development. “What Carter and Steve both did well is, somehow, even in an orchestra of 100, I felt like they knew me. I didn’t sit in the front and wasn’t a particular stand-out. But I felt like we had a relationship. They made me feel like I was a critical part of all of this.” She added with a laugh, “they made me feel like if I wasn’t there, the orchestra would be worse.” She continues: “They made me feel like I was contributing. This is what I’m trying to do now with my students.”
It was in Sinfonia that she met musicians that became lifelong friends. “I met violists from other schools who were also very serious. I keep in touch with them to this day. To have these young women I could walk with on this path as serious violists was everything.”
Lauren explains how MYSO was a safe haven at a somewhat difficult time. “I ended up having a tough time going into high school. The school I thought I was going to go to with my friends was not the one I ended up in. I didn’t know anyone. The relationships I made in MYSO, though, remained constant, and it made the transition easier.”
Lauren talks about one important need that MYSO fulfilled in her as a young person that she didn’t recognize until years later. “MYSO provided a place for my emotions and feelings to go, even if I didn’t realize at the time. Now that I’m a parent, I recognize that even more.” She says it was a healthy way to channel her emotions. “Playing a piece of music in MYSO was a way to direct those feelings in a positive way and helped me to feel the things I needed to feel.”
After MYSO, Lauren attended Lawrence University where she received her Bachelor of Music degree, graduating summa cum laude, majoring in music education/viola performance and received her Master of Music degree from Northwestern University. She is a National Board-Certified Teacher in Instrumental Music.
In her career, Lauren has been drawn to working with middle-school-aged musicians. “There’s something about this age. I love how open they are to whatever feeling they’re having or mood they’re in and sharing that with you. I try to meet every kid where they are. There are all these students with specific needs. I’m trying to meet those individual needs and build connections with them. Some kids just need a little nudge, and others need more.”
She says the crux of her teaching philosophy is teaching students to see how music relates to the world and not just as notes on the page. “I try to get them to see what role music plays in our world. Whether or not you’re in music, music is in your life and is impacting you in some way. I like to connect music to what was going on in the world when it was composed. I want them to compare that to today. I want them to ask, ‘how does music relate to my life and my own feelings?’ This develops the whole kid. It’s about much more than specific musical techniques.”
Lauren feels Sinfonia plays an important role in MYSO. “If you make it to Sinfonia and have a good experience, you’re likely going to be in it for the duration. I want the kids to walk in there and feel like I did, like it’s a professional ensemble experience and they’re treated like adults.”
And she talks about her role in the lives of her Sinfonia students who range from grades 4-10. “I want everyone to feel valued. I want the older kids to feel like they have a lot to contribute, and I want the youngest kids to feel like they belong; I want them to feel we’re all in the same place together. I hope they feel challenged to reach a certain level and that the goals we set feel achievable.”
Looking ahead in Sinfonia…“I’d like to diversify and update the music Sinfonia plays. I’m taking some of the repertoire Mr. Rindt had used before because it’s just good stuff, and I want to bring in some new music.”
Lauren explains what Sinfonia is working on: “We’re playing a piece of music by a Black composer from the 1800s who lived in England and was not enslaved. He was successful and well-known in that time which I think is really interesting. I really want to make the kids more aware of lesser-known composers like him. I have a piece of music that is a Chinese folk song, written by a Chinese woman from the Xinjiang province. It’s easier, but this authenticity is something I want the kids to experience. MYSO is heading in this direction which is great to see.”
In addition, she would like the orchestra to be more student-led. “It’s a youth orchestra, so of course the director is ‘in charge,’ but I want the kids to feel some ownership of the group no matter where they sit. Before sectionals, I asked them to make a sectional agenda. I want them to feel like they are part of the decision-making process.”
“I am just so thrilled to be at MYSO!”
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.