Chris Stonnell, Director of Education and Community Engagement for your Charlotte Symphony, has a long history with, and passion for, the arts in Charlotte. We sat down with Chris to learn more about why he chose this profession, and to find out what's next for education and community engagement at the CSO.
Chris, you've been working for the Charlotte Symphony longer than anyone else on staff. What was your path to the CSO?
I started working as a chorus and drama teacher in Cabarrus County where I grew up. I spent a little over 4 years teaching in public schools but found myself getting a little burned out from the grind. I loved the teaching part of it - the rewards of seeing the finished product - but didn't enjoy the classroom management, the paperwork, the endless meetings. I knew there had to be something else I could do with my knowledge of the arts and education so I took a chance and quit my job - three months before getting married.
Wow. And how did your significant other react to that?
Well, she still married me!
So, what came next?
Either through luck or divine intervention the School Programs Manager position opened up at the CSO! I started in January of 2006 and haven't looked back.
|What changes have you seen in the Charlotte community through your years here?
It just continues growing; and with it so does the diversity of the community! The CSO has really been responding to all of this growth. We're reaching new populations and our community outreach has really taken off in the last few years.
Healing Hands performance
Is that important?
Yes! It shows that we value our community. Music should not be a luxury; it should be accessible for everyone.
That's a beautiful idea. Do you think the CSO's community programs are having that effect?
We're really starting to see the long-term successes of programs that we've been doing for a while. I was around for the very beginning, when Project Harmony started at Winterfield Elementary. We've had some success creating a pipeline for students from there to Northwest School of the Arts through to our Youth Orchestras.
Project Harmony students
|And it's all about providing that pipeline, because down the road, we'd love to see our community reflected onstage. It's difficult because it all comes down to access. If you don't start playing an instrument until middle school you're already at a disadvantage to those that could afford private lessons at an earlier age. The idea is trying to help bridge that gap.
What's next for education and community engagement at the CSO?
I'd like to see us take the successful programs that we have and expand upon them - deepen their impact. I also want to look at other areas of the community that we haven't reached yet. We're starting to look into sensory friendly concerts. Again, it's about accessibility. Coming uptown at night to sit in an assigned seat for 2 plus hours in a darkened theater can be challenging for patrons with disabilities, but there's no reason why they shouldn't have access to be able to experience the CSO.
|So, what do you do when you're not sharing classical music with the world?
I really like singing and acting in community theatre shows, but when you work in the arts, Friday and Saturday nights are when the magic happens, so it's hard to find time for my own performances! I also enjoy sports; I go to a lot of Panthers games. I'm also a proud Appalachian State University grad, so I've been really happy with their success in football. I also really like movies - especially scary ones!
Then I have to ask, which horror movie score would you like to hear the CSO perform?
Oh, that's tough. I'd have to say Psycho. The score is great - I'd love to hear that played by the CSO!
Well, we'll have to try to make that happen! Thanks so much for allowing us to get to know you a little better.