Classical Youth Initiative Student Profile: Jonas Tarm

As you may have heard or seen on the Ravinia website, this summer will be the inaugural summer of the Classical Youth Initiative (CYI). A wonderful group of students from Highland Park High School worked alongside the Ravinia Communications Department to encourage young listeners to attend the Chicago Symphony Orchestra performances at Ravinia.  We will be featuring students on the blog all summer. Here we have our talk with Jonas Tarm about his love for western art music.

Jonas just finished his junior year at Highland Park High School. He is heavily involved in his high school’s music program along with many other music programs in the Chicago area. He played in the Midwest Young Artists program for four years. Currently, he plays in Music Institute of Chicago’s Academy program. He also composes his own pieces; some of his which were featured in the Institute’s “Generation Next: Composers Concert”, which was aired on WMFT this year. He is an extremely talented violin player and composer. This fall, he was placed in the IMEA All-State honors orchestra. In the spring, he won Highland Park High School’s concerto audition, which led to him being featured in the top orchestra’s performance of the third and fourth movements of Edouard Lalo’s  “Le Symphonie Espagnole.” He has had a wonderfully accomplished music career so far.

Jonas’s background is far different from your typical suburban teenager. He was born in Estonia, and lived there for the first ten years of his life. He began playing music while still living in Estonia. He started playing the violin when he was seven years old. He chose to play violin mainly at the request of his mother who hoped buying violins would cheaper than buying pianos! He moved to Highland Park at age ten and began playing in the school orchestras. As he has grown up, Jonas said his main influences are musicians and composers that display diversity and refuse to be narrowly defined. He stated that Yo-Yo Ma and Leonard Bernstein are of his biggest influences because both used classical training to fuel explorative careers in both performing and composing music. His favorite pieces to play are anything written in the 20th century, and one day hopes to play Mahler’s renowned compositions. Kids like Jonas Classical music is not dead as some would lead you to believe. There are teenagers out there who love blasting Bartok’s symphonies out of their stereo just as much as they love blasting out Kanye West’s music.

Jonas chose to be a part of the student marketing team because Ravinia has always been a big part of his life. He wanted to show other kids the positive experiences he has every time he sees a CSO performance. He lives in the neighborhood surrounding Ravinia, so he hears every concert from his house. He attends many CSO shows every summer. He even visits CSO rehearsals to learn how professionals rehearse. Jonas also hoped working on the team would help him develop skills that would allow him to help sell his own playing as he begins to pursue a professional music career. He feels the marketing team’s biggest challenges are coming this summer. He specifically mentioned the challenge of executing the CYI successfully so that students actually come see CSO shows. He really hopes that this summer’s Cannon-Ball Event will open teenagers from other schools who may not know as much about Ravinia. Working on this team has helped him learn more of the business obstacles facing classical music. The challenge above led Jonas to a few beliefs about the state of classical music today. Jonas feels the solution to the problems facing the world’s top orchestras is finding an effective way to present traditional western art music to a young audience.

That belief demonstrates what struck me the most about Jonas. He is extremely aware of the challenges that a musician faces; and is willing to ask himself difficult questions that most shy away from. For example, when I was in high school, I vividly remember one guy who is one of the best singers I have ever heard. He was good enough to compete on American Idol last year. Even though he was ridiculously talented, he did not have Jonas’s foresight. He never spent time learning musical marketing skills while he was in high school. Jonas’s decision to work on these skills at such a young age demonstrates his character. It bodes well for him that he is willing to look around and ask himself difficult questions like “Can western art music be sold to kids? Does the art need to change?” Kids like Jonas and the other students I will be interviewing make those difficult choices, which is one of the biggest reasons why all of us at Ravinia believe that we can find a way to market the CSO to teenagers through the Classical Youth Initiative.

Edwin Pratt

Communications Intern