Elgin Youth Symphony Orchestras Awarded Grant In Support of Program That Removes Music Education Barriers

(Elgin, Illinois, January 2023)The National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) has awarded the Elgin Youth Symphony Orchestras (EYSO) the Challenge America Grant in support of their Starter Strings program. This grant will allow EYSO to continue to provide excellent music education to communities that may not be able to afford it.  


The purpose of this grant is to extend the reach of the arts, particularly by providing equitable opportunities to underserved communities. The NEA works to provide equitable funding for arts programs on a federal level.  


“This grant is more than just financial support—it’s an instrument in the hands of a student, and the opportunity for a life enriched by the arts,” said EYSO Artistic Director Matthew Sheppard. “With this and the generous support of our sponsors, the Starter Strings program can continue to serve students across our community, and it can grow into new partnerships, sharing the joy and possibility of music with young artists across the Fox River Valley.” 

In 2020, EYSO partnered and began planning with Oakhill Elementary School, a dual-language neighborhood school in the U-46 (Elgin) district, and launched the first class in September 2021. Over the course of a year, EYSO worked with Oakhill to increase access to music education by removing some of the traditional barriers for students: transportation, tuition, and instrument rental. For EYSO’s 2022-2023 season, this program has now grown to O’Neal School and is 74 students strong. Every week, enthusiastic Starter Strings Director Tracy Dullea holds tuition-free music classes for fourth-grade students who would otherwise be unable to participate, and who can now make music an ongoing part of their lives. 


Starter Strings students have two performance opportunities each year. Oakhill students will perform at Mrs. Cooper’s Spring Music Concert (March 14, 7 p.m. at Streamwood HS) and O’Neal students will perform at Mrs. Chavez’s Spring Music concert (May 11, approx. 5 p.m. at Elgin High School). These concerts are free and open to the public. 


At the end of the school year, students will perform for their peers and teachers at their school. Students get the chance to show the culmination of their learning and get next year’s fourth graders excited about the program.  


In receiving the Challenge America Grant, EYSO also gives thanks to their current program sponsors including Seigle Foundation, Florence B. & Cornelia A. Palmer Foundation, & Farny R. Wurlitzer Foundation, and partners at School District U-46 for their ongoing support. 


The mission of EYSO is to create a community of young musicians, enriching their lives and the lives of their families, schools, communities, and beyond, through the study and performance of excellent music. For more information, visit www.eyso.org or call 847.841.7700.

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