by Ron Oshima
Steven Rindt, music director of Sinfonia, retired in June 2021 after 36 official years with MYSO in various teaching and coaching roles. Steven was also a member of Music for Youth (renamed MYSO in the mid-1980s) in high school and volunteered as a coach for summer camps before his official hire, so his affiliation with MYSO easily stretches to 40 years.
While in high school, Steven participated in MYSO’s first international tour in 1972 to Switzerland, Austria, and Italy. In Switzerland, the musicians were housed in an elementary school, where the desks were cleared out and bunks were placed in the rooms. Traveling was a bit more casual on our first tour compared to accommodations today!
Steven joined Music for Youth as a coach in 1985, then was invited to be on staff as a string specialist. He plays string bass and violin. He eventually became a conductor with String Orchestra and became the Sinfonia music director when that opening presented itself. He found Sinfonia a good age level (4th to 10th grade) to teach.
Serving as music director of Sinfonia was extremely rewarding for Steven, and he found gratifying success with this ensemble. “I don’t think there’s any secret sauce. I think it’s a matter of having a personality that enjoys having the kids at this age level in front of you, working with them, challenging them as you challenge yourself, and just growing together. I find it rewarding to give the kids the opportunity to take a chance or risk by giving guidance and instruction, whether it’s a physical skill, or a musical skill of how to listen.”
With this age group, there is a balancing act between challenging the kids and keeping it fun at the same time. Steven describes his teaching approach this way: “As a musician who plays with different orchestras, my experience tells me what the students need to get as they’re learning to grow and to listen. We’re both on this new adventure together, and we must work together to get there. But it also has to be fun, and communicating with smiles helps a lot.”
In January of 2005, MYSO moved from the Marcus Performing Arts Center to our current home, the Milwaukee Youth Arts Center. Steven vividly remembers the amazing benefits resulting from that move. “Things changed immensely, from a teaching point of view, when we moved to MYAC. Instead of being crowded tightly into rooms with ambient sounds from the streets, we found ourselves with space to spread out, with soundproofing from ambient street sounds, and with rooms that represented a quantum leap in acoustics. The musicians could now clearly hear themselves better, whether it was intonation, dynamics, articulations or hearing their sounds come together, and they learned so much faster. It made it much easier and enjoyable to teach the kids in the new space. It’s like a musician switching to a finer instrument. You’re a better musician just by your tools, assuming you put in the practice time.”
In 36 years, thousands of musicians have experienced the tutelage of Steven’s baton. Over that time, many connections developed through the shared joy of music. “I’ve kept in touch with both MYSO and West Allis kids I’ve taught. I think what’s neat is that when I play today in Festival City Symphony, or Wisconsin Philharmonic, or social gigs, I play alongside my former students who once sat in front of me as youngsters, and who are now educators and quality musicians, and they keep me on my toes and keep me challenged to hold my own with them. I’ve even taught the next generation who are children of former students.” Longevity as a music educator begets very fulfilling circles.
Steven leaves MYSO, and Sinfonia, in a much stronger position than when he started. He has much to be proud of. An organization like MYSO is not built by any single individual but by the collective efforts of many, and Steven certainly was a significant contributor in building our foundation. “I did my part to contribute to building the program. And I was always here for the kids. It’s all about the kids.”
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.