Ravinia's High Note: The Reach * Teach * Play Program

By Mira Temkin

Originally published Six00threefive magazine.


For Highland Parkers, Ravinia Festival has always been their summer playground for outstanding music, great performances, and a night under the stars. Couple all that with friendly gatherings as well as dining al fresco, and summer continuously makes Ravinia the star of the show.

What many residents don’t know about, however, is Ravinia’s efforts throughout the year to bring music and music education to underprivileged students in Lake and Cook counties, as well as to provide music instruction to Highland Park students. Reach * Teach * Play is a multifaceted program designed to educate, foster audience involvement, and ensure that under served populations have access to live music experiences both in their own communities and at Ravinia. Through Reach * Teach * Play, there are currently more than a dozen education programs, serving more than 75,000 young people.


Keeping tempo with student education programming

In 1965, the Ravinia Women’s Board planted the seeds of Reach * Teach * Play with the Opportunity Lawn Pass program, which gave students free access to concerts. This program led to other initiatives that served as the nucleus of the current signature Reach * Teach * Play program, said program director Christine Taylor.

“Ravinia’s work in schools began in earnest in 1995 with the Ravinia Jazz Mentors Program, founded in part by jazz legend and Ravinia Jazz Artistic Director Ramsey Lewis,” Taylor explained. “That program matched talented high-school students with Chicago’s finest jazz musicians, providing intensive pre-professional training and mentorships,” she continued.


Taylor said that other initiatives came through individual Ravinia Board or staff members. For example, Welz Kauffman, president and CEO of Ravinia, proposed One Score, One Chicago, a music appreciation program that introduces thousands of children and adults to a selected piece of classical music each year. This year’s selection is Verdi’s Aida.

“Bringing music to kids and to those who otherwise would not have access
 is one of the things that really gets my juices flowing,” said Kauffman. “When 
I was growing up, it was only because
 I wanted to play the piano that my parents found me a teacher, and that’s what set me off on a trajectory. It’s really important we find those kids, who, like me, will make music a lifelong obsession,” he commented.

Kauffman also suggested Ravinia’s Guest Artist in the Classroom program, which introduces children in Chicago, Highland Park, North Chicago, and Waukegan schools to live classical music performances by renowned ensembles and soloists.

Kaufmann himself “is a fantastic pianist who routinely plays for and with students in our schools,” Taylor said. “The Guest Artist program is a wonderful opportunity for him to share his passion for music with the students.”

Another program, El Sistema Ravinia is an intensive after school orchestra that encourages social development through exceptional music training at the Circle Rock Charter School in Chicago’s Austin neighborhood. Inspired by Venezuela’s influential
 El Sistema model, students in the program receive daily ensemble and orchestra instruction in their chosen instrument. Ravinia is looking to expand this program into Lake County schools in the near future.

The Ravinia Lawndale Family Music School helps bring children and adults together around musical experiences. Ravinia provides high-quality music instruction in guitar, piano, and choral performance at no charge, in cooperation with the Chicago Park District at various park locations. Participants also receive free tickets to Ravinia concerts.


In harmony with young local students

Through the District 112 Education Foundation Partnership, students in our neighborhood schools enjoy unique workshops and performances that connect them and their families to Ravinia. This year, Highland Park’s three middle school choirs came together under guest artist Bryan Johnson to perform several Gershwin pieces at Bennett Gordon Hall at Ravinia.

“We serve all of the schools in District 112,” said Taylor. “This year’s musical theme is Porgy and Bess. Fifth grade teachers integrate the story and the music into their curriculum, so when their students see it come to life at Ravinia, they’re very familiar with it.” Taylor added that as part of Ravinia’s annual Kids Go Classic program, all students K–8 were eligible for free lawn passes to the July performance of Porgy and Bess.


In tune with HPHS

Ravinia partners with Highland Park High School through the school’s biennial Focus on the Arts program. At “Focus Music Night” last April, Ravinia’s own Ramsey Lewis was honored with a new orchestration of his greatest hits by music students, which was followed by a memorable performance by Lewis himself.

Nick Pullia, Director of Communications at Ravinia, serves as an industry specialist at the high school’s “Marketing for Sports and Entertainment” class

in which students interested in entertainment-related careers learn how to market and promote a show. A group of 15 students worked with Ravinia’s marketing team to “pitch” their peers on attending Chicago Symphony Orchestra concerts at the festival.

“We first explained to the students that classical music faces a shrinking audience around the globe, especially for younger generations,” Pullia said.

“Then we asked them to help solve this problem by using the voice and tools of their generation to market CSO concerts to other high school kids who would otherwise regret not having experienced one of the world’s great ensembles for free in their own backyard.”


Pitch perfect programs come to life

The festival’s new interactive family-friendly space on the 
north lawn lets kids touch, play, and interact with Ravinia’s classic “instrument petting zoo.” At selected Ravinia concerts, children can explore the world of music with sing-a-longs, storytelling, and musical crafts as well as experience large-scale percussion instruments to make their own brand of music.

When you come to Ravinia this summer, you’ll do more 
than experience a brilliant performance, you’ll have a new appreciation for all the ways Ravinia continues to inspire a love of music for the Highland Park community and beyond!


Author Mira Temkin is a North Shore freelance writer whose articles have appeared in Lakeland Boating, Natural Awakenings, Chicago Upscale Travel Examiner, and NY Lifestyles magazine. She also writes advertising and web copy. Reach her at miratemkin@gmail.com.