Many of my students will never make it to see a group of musicians perform, so I think the most valuable thing they learned was what instruments sound like in real life, as opposed to just a recording. I can play videos of musicians all day, but it’s still just a video.
~ local school teacher after a MAP performance
One of the most wide-reaching and robust programs we produce, the Richmond Symphony Musical Ambassadors Program (MAP) curates, develops, rehearses, and performs over 125 concerts each season in metropolitan Richmond area schools. Although many in our community may be unaware even of the existence of this program, it nonetheless fulfills a vital aspect of our music education mission, introducing more than 45,000 children to classical music and the instruments of the orchestra every year.
Here’s how it works.
Every full-time member of the Richmond Symphony participates in a MAP chamber ensemble: it’s that important to our mission. There are five MAP chamber ensembles:
- Richmond Symphony Strings & Percussion
- Richmond Symphony String Quartet
- Richmond Symphony Principal Woodwind Quintet
- Richmond Symphony Assistant Principal Woodwind Quintet
- Richmond Symphony Brass Quintet & Percussion
At the end of each season, each of these ensembles elects, appoints, or otherwise selects a leader who will develop the ensemble’s programs for the upcoming season (each ensemble produces both a regular program which they will feature in MAP concerts for the upcoming year, and a “back-up” program to use in the event that musicians may be absent from a performance.
These leaders meet with education staff at the end of the season (in May and June) and begin to plan programs for the upcoming season (which begins in September). Over the summer the leaders develop their programs, and when symphony musicians return from the summer break, meet several times to rehearse their new MAP concert programs. On a very special day in September, homeschool families attend performances by each of the five MAP chamber ensembles in a day of performances at Dominion Energy Center. These performances also serve as a dress rehearsal and test run for each ensemble, and the musicians in each ensemble not only perform but also listen to their peers perform in the ensembles in which they do not participate.
And then, for the rest of the season, they take the show on the road.
Exposing children to the performing arts is extremely important. Seeing instruments they may never see or hear otherwise helps them think about future musical opportunities.
~ local school teacher after a MAP performance
Richmond Symphony MAP ensembles perform nearly every month from October to May at schools in six school districts including:
- Richmond Public Schools
- Chesterfield County Public Schools
- Goochland County Public Schools
- Hanover County Public Schools
- Henrico County Public Schools
- Powhatan County Public Schools
Through the approximately 125 school concerts performed by Richmond Symphony MAP ensembles, our symphony musicians perform in nearly every public elementary school in the region, every year.
As the MAP Coordinator, I have the privilege to see how excited each school is to host a Richmond Symphony MAP performance. Because of the variety of ensembles in this program, schools have the opportunity to choose an ensemble that best fits with current curriculum or simply rotate each year to expose students to more instruments. I love the varying approaches that each group uses to build a show around a central theme; students are treated to something unique every time they attend a MAP performance.
~ Amy Casper Pintea
MAP & Housing Coordinator
This year’s MAP ensemble programs were designed to align with the theme of the Richmond Symphony Discovery Concert program from this past fall, “Pioneers & Explorers”, and our MAP ensemble performances explored various ways of looking at innovation in and through music.
Ellen Cockerham Riccio, Richmond Symphony Principal Second Violin, is the author of the MAP String Quartet’s 2019-20 show Stickeen, and serves as the leader of the ensemble. “So much of a classical musician’s life is interpretive, it’s a rare and special challenge to create an original program for young listeners.” she says. “Thinking deeply about what it was like to hear music as a child connects me with what made me want to play the violin in the first place.”
Stickeen is a true story about John Muir’s dog, which Ellen narrates. She stands at the podium, now with her violin and bow in her hands, now tucked under her arm, and describes a dangerous glacier adventure Muir and his dog shared on a winter day in Alaska long ago. Her storytelling is “illustrated” by musical selections performed by the quartet at dramatic moments throughout the performance: the “soundtrack” features music by Beethoven and Schubert, Janáček and Bartók, Gabriela Lena Frank and more. The students groove in their seats when the quartet plays Pharrell Williams’ Happy, which everyone recognizes. Ellen’s colleagues in the quartet get up from time to time to help out, to demonstrate distances when Muir and Stickeen have to leap over crevasses in the glacier, to share differences and similarities between their instruments. All of them have been playing MAP shows for years, and they have played hundreds of these kinds of performances together by now.
Ellen has written several of these shows now, and one of them which she created several years ago – Ady’s American Adventure – has now been published, making it available for string quartets around the country who perform educational concerts to program.
I am not exactly certain how long the Musical Ambassador Program has been in existence, but many at the Richmond Symphony have assured me that this program is an institution. Principal Cello Neal Cary told me that these concerts have been a vigorous component of a Richmond Symphony musician’s working life since long before he began his career here in 1988. So chances are very good that if you grew up in Richmond and attended public school, you went to one or more of these concerts.
I enjoy the challenge of bringing classical music to many young people for the first time. When the show goes well, it’s a special joy to watch the kids light up as they hear live music.
~ Thomas Schneider
Principal Bassoon, Richmond Symphony
Leader, MAP Principal Woodwind Quintet