Walter Bitner

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Introducing the Richmond Symphony School of Music

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Dear Friends,

I’ve taken some time away from posting to Off The Podium. It’s my habit to do this each summer in any case, and these times have brought great challenges to all of us. I have been busy working with my colleagues in Richmond to adapt to our new situation, and respond.

And now the time has come to share what we’ve been working on.


In urban areas across the country, community music schools realize a broad mission of music education for all through a multitude of programs. These beloved institutions – some more than a century old – provide as many roles in the lives of those they touch as there are kinds of students who attend them. For many, a community music school is the place to pursue music beyond opportunities offered at home, school, or church; where they can meet others like themselves with common interests, struggles, hopes. It can be a safe place where they know they will meet friends. It can be the place where their dreams come alive.



When I began my tenure at the Richmond Symphony in the summer of 2019, one of the first things I noted about music education in Central Virginia was the absence of this institution.  As I learned more about the city’s history, it became clear that there is deep need here for the unity, healing, and social harmony that music brings, and in the fall of 2019 I began to openly discuss the idea of gathering support to build a community school with colleagues at the symphony and in the broader community.



The arrival of the global pandemic in March 2020 and the civil unrest that continues in our city and across the country as so many demonstrate and hope for equity, acceptance, and safety in our society dramatically underscored this need to seek peace and understanding through music as the opportunity to make music together in person was taken away, and like musicians across the world we persevered to find new ways to continue, to learn and play together.

And we did. And we realized that the time to build our community music school is now. We need it more than ever.

This effort is founded on the Richmond Symphony’s sixty-year-old youth orchestra program – acclaimed throughout the region – and on our long and multifaceted partnerships with Central Virginia’s public school music educators. It is our hope to build your community music school together with you. Together, we will dream the school that brings all kinds of music to all people, from childhood to adulthood. Together, we will build the school that will realize this dream for generations to come.


PRESS PLAY to watch our one minute teaser video! Trust me, it’s fun! OR, better yet, click here to watch it in full screen on our new website.


This week we began our three-week summer pilot with 90 youth orchestra students, and registration begins August 31 for fall semester classes that start the week of October 5. Our school will launch with a broad selection of instrumental and vocal music instruction, music theory, history, jazz, and more! and this range and selection will continue to expand and grow as quickly as we are able. We hope that you will stay in touch and join us on our journey.

As far as we know, we are the first symphony orchestra in the country to start a community music school. Many symphony orchestras (including the Richmond Symphony) have robust youth ensemble programs, but in our research we have encountered no peers in the United States – in fact, our helpful colleagues at the VSO School of Music are the only other example we have found of a symphony-led community music school in North America. If you work for or know of another symphony orchestra who have done this, please let us know!


Youth Orchestra during the global pandemic! The Richmond Symphony School of Music launches with the 2020 Summer Pilot, Opening Large Ensemble Meeting in Zoom, July 28, 2020. Click images to enlarge!


Starting a virtual music school during a global pandemic has been a once in a lifetime experience. We could not have done it without the amazing efforts of so many people: Richmond Symphony musicians, Richmond Symphony Chorus members, staff, and board members; students, parents, Richmond Symphony League supporters, many musician and education colleagues and friends from the Richmond community, and many friends and colleagues at other symphony orchestras, associations, and music education institutions across the country. It is simply unbelievable how many people have given selflessly of their time and talents. When I have a moment to step back and realize what is happening (which is not often, unfortunately) I am overwhelmed with gratitude.

Above all, I am so grateful for the way that the Richmond Symphony Education & Community Engagement team has turned on a dime, pulled together, and started a music school in four months. You guys are the best. Please join me in recognizing and applauding the incredible work of these remarkable individuals:

Logan Massey
Assistant Director of Education

Kristen Allegood
Community Partnerships Manager

Jonathan Sanford
Education Coordinator

Amy Pintea
RSSoM Program Manager
MAP & Housing Coordinator

JuHye Kim
University of Richmond Bonner Scholar

Mimi Laws
University of Richmond Bonner Scholar


Many, many thanks to the efforts, expertise, insight, and patience of our web design team: Ron Zisman and Tim Spino at Ron Zisman Design, who have been with us every step of the way. We could not have done this without you.


I invite you to visit our new website, which launches now, with this letter to you:

Please sign up for our newsletter to stay in touch!


Thank you so much, from the bottom of my heart.

Walter Bitner
Richmond, Virginia
July 29, 2020

1 Comment

  1. Ron Zisman says:

    thanks for the plug. never been famous before. serious, it was nice. thanks


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