IN UNISON scholarship participants from UMSL

IN UNSION scholarship participants gather at Powell Hall including (front row, from left) Ra’Geen Washington, Octavia Sydnor, IN UNISON manager and UMSL alumnus Brian Owens, Joseph Hendricks, (back row, from left) Chad Pleasant and DeRon Wilson. (Photo courtesy of St. Louis Symphony.)

The St. Louis Symphony’s IN UNISON scholarship has offered sweet musical experiences to five University of Missouri–St. Louis students this year, allowing them to perform with professional musicians and stretch their creative wings.

IN UNISON offers recipients experience in the professional music world and in arts administration, in addition to financial compensation. This year’s six recipients are UMSL music students, continuing a long-standing relationship between the university and the St. Louis Symphony.

Recipients of the scholarship are violinists Chad Pleasant, Octavia Sydnor, Ra’Geen Washington and DeRon Wilson; bassoonist Joseph Hendricks; and percussionist Matthew Clark.

“It’s a multifaceted approach to mentoring the entire person that is a musician, as opposed to just the musical elements of a musician,” said Brian Owens, IN UNISON’S program manager and UMSL alumnus, BM 2008. Owens was also a recipient of the scholarship when he was a UMSL student.

The symphony started IN UNISON in 1992 as an outreach program to connect the symphony with local churches. The Monsanto Fund finances the scholarship program. In addition to performance opportunities with professional musicians, students have the opportunity for mentoring. Participants are first recommended by their music department, and finalists’ names are forwarded to a committee, which selects the strongest candidates based on those recommendations.

Washington, a senior, became entranced by her instrument during a fourth-grade assembly, when a visiting musician switched from the violin to the cello and back to the violin.

“I thought that was one of the coolest things I’d ever seen, that she not only knew one instrument, but she knew two,” Washington said. “I signed up for classes.”

Washington’s experience with IN UNISON has offered not only performance opportunities, but also exploration of careers in arts administration.

“There are so many different opportunities in music that you’re just not aware of because two main focal points tend to be music education, or musical performance,” Washington said. “This gives me the opportunity to do a little bit of everything.”

A performance earlier this month, “Someday We’ll All Be Free,” was part of the symphony’s Black History Month celebration and featured the music of Donny Hathaway. Hathaway grew up in St. Louis before becoming a well-known soul and R and B musician who worked closely with Roberta Flack. The student musicians shared the stage with professional vocalists and the 442’s, a professional acoustic instrumental quartet incorporating classical and jazz performers.

“Classical music is where my heart lives,” Wilson said. “It’s been very fun being exposed to new techniques and new ideas.”

Wilson, also a senior said he was familiar with Hathaway’s music from his childhood, but the concert allowed him to explore soul as a performer in addition to being a listener.

“I’ve gotten a lot more freedom to express myself in a more soulful way,” Wilson said. “Through classical music you can express yourself in an extremely soulful way as well, but this is different. Being exposed to those pieces again evokes the idea of family for me.”

The UMSL Experience

Rachel Webb

Rachel Webb