Juilliard-bound Natalie Clarke reflects on her 12 years at MYAC

Years in attendance at MYAC:
I was a student at MYAC for 12 years and started in Reading Orchestra as a 1st grader.

Programs a member of at MYAC:
Orchestra, Chamber Music, I’Solisti, Young Music Scholars Mentor, and Voices Rising


Hometown and age:
Vernon Hills, IL, age 18

Plans after high school: 
I’ll be attending Juilliard in the fall as a freshman Viola Performance major.

Goals for the near future:
I really want to continue chamber music, possibly as my profession. I’m looking forward to orchestra at Juilliard. I spent 12 years of my life in orchestra at MYAC, so one of my goals is someday getting a spot in orchestra. I also really enjoy teaching music. I’ve had some private students. I had about 4-5 students as a Student Mentor in MYAC’s Young Music Scholars program.

How has MYAC impacted your life? 
MYAC has made a huge impact in my life. I’ve not only grown in music, but I’ve grown as a person. The experience I’ve received: I’d say it’s more than just music. It gave me confidence, the ability to create new things. MYAC’s overall message is about working hard and trying your best, and if you don’t succeed, try again.

Do you remember your first day/first year at MYAC? What was that like?
My private teacher, Christine Due, suggested MYAC because her older students were all at MYAC. I remember distinctly that first day. I was really nervous, because I didn’t know what to expect. I was doubting myself, walking through the halls and hearing all this music coming from the rooms. But when I got to the Reading Orchestra rehearsal, Mr. Pearson was there. I don’t know if I even played a single note at that rehearsal, but he was so nice and helpful to all the students, he made it really fun. Eventually, It felt like a second home.

Who were some of the additional teachers and faculty who guided you during those early years at MYAC?
Rose Armbrust: She’s an MYAC alumna and was my former chamber coach. She’s a violist. At our first rehearsal, I remember I was really amazed at her playing. She helped me a lot.

Mr. Bassill: I’ve worked with him one on one since 8th grade when I was part of the Chamber music festival at MYAC. He coached my chamber quartet this past spring when we were semi-finalists at the Fischoff competition. He’s so supportive. He gives all of his time and really helps the chamber groups.

MYAC and Lang Lang Foundation Young Scholars Partnership

For the last 7 years, MYAC has shared an exclusive partnership with the Lang Lang International Music Foundation. The International Summer Music Summit is a chance for a small group of exceptionally gifted young pianists under the age of 16, hand-selected from around the globe by the internationally acclaimed pianist Lang Lang, to gather in a week-long celebration of collaborative music with MYAC’s Symphony Orchestra members.

Through homestays with our host families, chamber performances, sightseeing activities, and concerts at world-renowned venues around Chicago, the students of MYAC and the Lang Lang “Young Scholars” form friendships that last far beyond their short stay in Chicago.

Collaborations have included chamber concerts at Chicago Botanic Garden and concerto performances with our Symphony Orchestra at Millennium Park for an audience of thousands. New this year, the Summer Music Summit will also include a concert at the beautiful and historic Cantigny Park in Wheaton, IL.

MYAC Founder and President Dr. Allan Dennis recounts the creation of this special partnership:

“We approached Lang Lang when he was here as our guest of honor. He received the Golden Baton Award from us in 2010 [given to an arts leader who symbolizes the importance of music and the arts in educating young people] and I said ‘let’s do something together’ and he responded ‘that sounds like a good idea!” 

The free concerts of the International Summer Music Summit provide a truly eye-opening experience for members of the Chicagoland community who may not ordinarily be exposed to live classical music, as well as for MYAC’s orchestra members.

“You’d be amazed at the number of times people just come up to me and say ‘I was just walking by and I couldn’t go, I couldn’t leave,” says Dr. Dennis about the Millennium Park concert.

“It’s music on the highest level. I’ve had so many kids in our orchestra say that it was a defining moment for them, that they thought ‘this is a really great group, we’re lucky to have this.’ They’re then determined to raise their own level of expectation. And that’s what it’s all about. I sit back and I see the lights turning on in the eyes, in the minds [of the kids], and I think: this is what God put me here to do.” 

MYAC’s own Symphony Orchestra member Kimie Han recently completed her graduation recital as a 2016-2018 Lang Lang Young Scholar at Carnegie Hall’s Weill Recital Hall earlier this month. She studies piano with Alexander Korsantia and Brenda Huang and is a 17-year-old senior at Lake Forest High School. She hails from Lake Forest, IL.

Kimie describes working with Lang Lang himself in Switzerland this summer. The experience taught her to manage any lack of confidence on stage by fully sharing the expression of music with her audience.

“Working with Lang Lang is such a unique experience because even though he is very down-to-earth and serious about producing the best possible performance, he creates this energy onstage that is so incredibly free and wild. So when you perform with him, all of the nerves just seem to go away, and instead the performance becomes solely about enjoying the music and sharing it with your audience,“ she says.

Being a member of MYAC over the last several years provided Kimie with the foundation to achieve her personal and musical goals. She plans to apply for university this fall to obtain a double degree in Piano Performance and either Biology or Neuroscience.

“MYAC has been my ‘home away from home’ throughout the years. I have spent countless amounts of hours in orchestra rehearsals, chamber rehearsals, performances, and more. Under the guidance of Dr. D, I have learned the true meaning of hard work, dedication, and leadership. And throughout my time at MYAC, I have met some of the most amazing people - people who have become my closest friends. Without MYAC, I wouldn’t be the musician or person that I am today.”

*Join us at our upcoming FREE International Summer Music Summit concerts Saturday August 18 at 6 p.m. at Cantigny Park in Wheaton, IL and Sunday August 19 at Millennium Park Pritzker Pavilion (a potluck picnic with our families begins at 4 p.m. on the Great Lawn followed by our concert in the Pavilion at 5 p.m.)*

Super Supporters Tom and Nancy Sharp

Tom and Nancy Sharp’s relationship with Midwest Young Artists Conservatory extends back 23 years, nearly to the very beginning of the school. It was 1995 when they first heard about a concert by the newly formed youth orchestra program featuring distinguished guest soloists. They decided to attend and were immediately impressed.

 “That’s really where the light went on, and we said ‘we’ve got to do this, we want our children to have exposure to this.’” Tom recalls. “We thought it would be a nurturing experience for our kids, and it was!”

 All three of the Sharp children studied through MYAC programs, with two going on to become professional musicians. Courtney earned degrees from the Cleveland Institute of Music and Peabody Institute, and is now a professional cellist and music instructor. Madeline, a violist, earned her bachelor’s and master’s from Julliard, and is a member of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra. Andrew, also a cellist, recently graduated from DePaul University and has started a career in the accounting world and is on his way to obtaining his CPA.

Tom, a senior vice president at Morgan Stanley Wealth Management, became actively involved as a parent with MYAC and was invited to join the Board of Directors. He went on to become the school’s longest serving board chairman from 2005 to 2015, and currently serves as treasurer.

For over two decades, Tom and Nancy have been transformational donors to MYAC. Their partnership in both philanthropy and governance has been instrumental in helping MYAC grow into one of the top youth music organizations.

In addition to their belief in MYAC’s programs, Tom says they choose to stay involved with MYAC as a charitable cause because of the educational and social impact it has on its students.

“As the schools cut back on arts funding, our mission is imperative: to have people understand the power of music; what its impact can be on their lives.” He believes the ever-growing research on the academic and social benefits of studying music proves this point. “I see that as part of our mission, to make sure that young people know that music is important.”
 “Another reason I love MYAC is the nurturing aspect. When you look at the testimonials from these young people, time and again we see that friendships are as important as the music part is. When you go to our competitions, you see the kids come out and support others. You see them congratulate each other afterwards. I really take pride in the fact that we consider that an important part of what we do.”

What excites Tom and Nancy most about MYAC’s plans for the future? The vision to build a Lake County Arts Center: a state-of-the-art performing and visual arts center on the MYAC campus, benefitting a multitude of cultural and educational organizations. Tom states, “The vision of a Lake County Arts Center is very appealing to me. I see a great need for it as it supports MYAC’s mission, as well as bringing in a larger community of artists.