Music, The Universal Language: Get to Know Peter Thomas & Milwaukee Youth Symphony Orchestra 🎼✨

“Music is my tool to bring people together… it is such a universal language to unite the community,” Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra cellist extraordinaire, Peter Thomas stated on our weekly Rock the Stream Zoom.

“Music is the language of the soul,” echoed Milwaukee Youth Symphony Orchestra (MYSO) Executive Director, Linda Edelstein on the same call. “We bring students from all over the region together who are incredibly diverse as individuals. Their passion for music unites them all and helps them foster meaningful relationships and lifelong connections. To quote our students, ‘kids find their tribe in MYSO.’ They are so amazingly supportive of one another. We believe so much in the holistic value of mentorship and realize that kids are incredibly supportive of one another. Having a diverse group of like minded individuals is so incredibly powerful.”

Thomas and Edelstein are two passionate individuals who are committed to using music as a caveat to strengthen our community as a whole. Thomas serves as a teacher at MYSO, Carthage College in Kenosha, and also gives lessons in his personal studio as well.

Thomas performed with his chamber-pop group, “I’m Not A Pilot” at the 2012 Rock the Green Sustainability Festival, and still proudly wears his Rock the Green recycled t-shirt, which he sported on the recent Zoom call.

The “Rock-it Program,” which Thomas started in 2013 while performing with “I’m Not A Pilot,” remains a career highlight for the cellist. “The ‘Rock-it Program’ was first premiered with a combined orchestra of MYSO students in April 2013 at the South Milwaukee PAC. We hired Nashville composer Jim Gray to fully orchestrate eight original I’m Not A Pilot tunes to be played in collaboration with a full symphony orchestra. The concert sparked so much interest and appeal that we took the program on the road performing with music students in high school orchestral and band programs all over the state of Wisconsin. We raised money for their music programs through ticket sales and gave the students a “Pop Orchestra” experience that included lights, smoke machines, and even solo opportunities with I’m Not A Pilot. We recorded a LIVE album from the first concert MYSO and also a plethora of videos.”

MYSO Executive Director, Linda Edelstein reinforced Thomas’s sentiment. “MYSO is the largest after-school orchestral program in the nation. The connection that you find with music is so special. Music may be the most equalitarian medium in our society.” Edelstein and her teachers at MYSO, including Peter Thomas, have been handed a challenging task… to continue to meet their mission to unite youth throughout Milwaukee via the universal power of music during a world-wide pandemic.

“We’ve dealt with everything from physical distancing, to limiting ensemble sizes, to hard decisions which have included furloughing staff,” Edelstein shared in response to how COVID19 has impacted MYSO. “We had to close down our programming in March and then regrouped as an organization, and over the eight weeks which followed from the end of March through May and connected with every one of our ensembles via Zoom and also provided our students with wonderful resources and links and music classes online.”

Both Edelstein and Thomas shared about how online teaching has impacted him as an instructor and mentor for youth at MYSO. “It’s not just about teaching music. The importance of MYSO extends beyond the rehearsal space walls, and is essential to helping like minded students find ways to embrace the diversity of our community and establish young people as empathetic citizens and leaders. No matter what careers or life paths students in MYSO choose, they learn valuable skills about being part of a team, time management, delayed gratification, accepting constructive feedback, in addition to resilience and resourcefulness which they can carry with them for life. Music, as a medium, is s