ASO Sympatico was born out of a commitment to education, the youth of Alexandria, and social justice. In 2012, various members of the ASO staff and board, including Music Director Kim Allen Kluge, began thinking about the best way for the Alexandria Symphony Orchestra to give back to its community. After learning about the growth of El Sistema-inspired programs around the United States, the ASO began looking for local models that it could learn from. It connected with Dan Trahey, Artistic Director of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra’s OrchKids program.
Dan, along with ASO Executive Director Jessica Wisser and numerous members of the ASO’s Board of Directors, decided to test drive the concept in the Alexandria City Public Schools. This resulted in two week-long workshops that engaged music faculty and students at John Adams Elementary School In December 2013, the ASO held a bucket band workshop led by percussionists Brian Prechtl and Pete Tashjian. In March 2014, musicians from the London-based Creative Connections project led John Adams students in a workshop, culminating in John Adams students sharing the stage with the ASO at its March 2014 concert.
Simultaneously, and independent of the ASO, music educators at John Adams were building the school’s musical capacity. A strong foundation was already in place as a result of Wes McCune’s 20+ year tenure with the Orff Ensemble, which had long been a staple at John Adams. Adding to this rich history, music teachers Emily Smith and Lindsey Serrao established their own ensembles in 2013 – the Singing Eagles and Strings at Sunrise, respectively.
With the 2013-2014 year behind them, the teachers at John Adams and the ASO looked ahead to creating a firm partnership. In October 2014, the ASO hired Sympatico’s first Program Director, in an effort to craft and implement a vision for sustainable program growth while accentuating the uniqueness of the program. Two more ensembles, Keetman and JABBA, were added to Sympatico. The program’s mission and quick start earned Sympatico a Distinguished Music Education Partnership Award from the Yale School of Music in 2015.