What Makes Us Human: The Jacksonville Symphony Transforms Students’ Lives Through Music Education Programs


Author: Marianne Rice, Vice President of Music Education & DEI Initiatives

Why is music education important? Some may think music education is a privilege. However, at its core, music is a universal language that creates the melodies of our lives, and music education is the necessary vehicle we use to transport students to other destinations and new levels of growth. Through music, students can embark on a magical journey and explore the life and time of Johannes Brahms, Ludwig van Beethoven and other iconic composers. They can travel and hear the emerging, diverse musical sounds of New York City, New Orleans, Chicago and a world of other breathtaking, faraway places. They can discover friendship and a profound sense of self-accomplishment knowing their skills improve each and every time they practice.

Here at the Jacksonville Symphony, with the support of many, we can present educational programs that encourage and enlighten our students through musical expression and development. Students across Northeastern Florida experience live and virtual performances that are interactive and engaging. For instance, in October 2022, 1,375 elementary school students attended Preludes concerts in Jacoby Symphony Hall. Preludes concerts are 45-minute educational concerts for students in grades one through three that introduce them to the instruments in the Symphony and help them develop an appreciation for classical music. Holland & Knight provided funding for free bus transportation so students at Title One schools could attend. 13,464 students who could not attend the Preludes concert in-person viewed the performance recording virtually in their classrooms.

In December 2022, 4,734 students from 55 schools attended two school matinee performances of the Jacksonville Symphony’s First Coast Nutcracker. Prior to the performance, teachers received a link to the online Nutcracker Adventure Guide and lesson plans. Through Students at the Symphony, a free program for Title One schools, teachers can register for students to attend select Coffee concerts. This year, 100 students from the 5,000 Role Models of Excellence program attended our Paul Simon performance on November 4, 2022, and our Duke Ellington & Billy Strayhorn Coffee concert on January 13, 2023. Students also had a “Meet and Greet” with Principal Tubist James Jenkins, JSYO Music Director and Assistant Conductor Grant O’Brien and Associate Conductor Kevin Fitzgerald.

Our School Ensemble Visit program is designed for an informal, interactive and age-appropriate educational experience. Jacksonville Symphony musicians present engaging, thematic performances for students. To date, 36 Title One institutions have registered for a school ensemble performance. Along with school ensemble visits, on December 2, 2022, the Jacksonville Symphony Chorus performed a Holiday Concert for 600 students at Macclenny Elementary School, a Title One school in Clay County.

Our educational programs also include post-secondary education. For instance, 273 students participated in our Student Workshop Conductor Visits, which is a free program for local schools and colleges in which the JSYO Music Director leads working sessions with students on their repertoire, mini-masterclasses and adjudications. In September 2022, Tony Nickle, our Vice President and Artistic Administrator, conducted a presentation and spoke to 60 music students at Flagler College about work done behind the scenes at a symphony orchestra.

Our youth orchestra program, Jacksonville Symphony Youth Orchestras (JSYO), serves 187 students ages seven to 21. Rehearsals are held every Sunday from September through May at Florida State College of Jacksonville (FSCJ, South Campus), and students perform four concerts in Jacoby Symphony Hall. In addition to JSYO, our after-school program, Jump Start Strings, provides music instruction to 60 students attending Title One schools in Duval County. Together, our wide variety of programs strive to reach all students, from equally diverse ages and backgrounds, so they have access to the transformative power of symphonic music.

As we continue with our 2022/23 season, more students will have the opportunity to engage and participate in the Jacksonville Symphony’s music education programs. This season, we will reach approximately 35,000 students through our music education programs. So, why is music education important? It is important because it is essential to being human. It allows us to express ourselves in a way without words, take us to new places in the comfort of our homes, classrooms and performance halls and connect with others through our mutual passion for this artform. It is us; it is you; it is me. Music education ensures this continues for many generations to come as students are the ones who hold the future of music. Therefore, it is our mission to keep enriching the human spirit through symphonic music.