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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 so great, as it is fun to both play music as well as be challenged to pursue your passions. In so many ways MYSO might be one of the most diverse places in the city. MYSO helps families with whatever they need to be successful. The arts have that amazing power to connect and unite people!”

“The cornerstone of MYSO’s extensive Community Partnership Programs is the Progressions Program, designed to benefit some of our most vulnerable youth and our community in Milwaukee,” Edelstein stated. “Progressions is open to children in Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS) or choice or charter schools who do not have consistent access to music education. We invite schools to nominate up to five children in second grade, and in doing so, have a beautifully broad range of students in our program. We work with families and students on what it means to be a member of a ‘music family,’ and the importance of attending and participating in local, regional, and national musical competitions.”

Thomas further shared, “It is our sincere hope that we can embrace the diversity of the community and establish young people in Milwaukee and beyond as good, civically involved citizens. I never had a youth orchestra growing up in Stevens Point,” Thomas shared, “I’m so incredibly blessed to be part of an organization these days that can help its students find their identity and individuality, as well as learning what it’s like to be on a team with like minded folks.”

Like many other artists, Thomas continues to stay busy as a performer as well as a creative force for change in the community. In addition to his teaching and work with MYSO, Thomas has also created MusiConnect during the pandemic as a way to unite our community through the gift of music.

“MuisConnect strives to bring people together during the COVID-19 pandemic by creating a safe space for musicians to perform around the greater Milwaukee area. We perform free concerts on the driveways of volunteer houses that feature a diversity of artists and musical genres. We believe that by building community we can help bring peace and camaraderie in a world that is so divided due to social injustice. Simply, music heals and is one of the greatest gifts to humanity.”

We look forward to the amazing live performance that on Thursday, July 16th featuring the sounds of the amazing Peter Thomas, as he plays to help benefit MYSO.

Please consider donating to support Peter Thomas & MYSO

Funding format:100% of the funds donated from the live-streams are split equally between the musician and nonprofit. The nonprofit partner accepts the donations and distributes half to the artist.

About Milwaukee Youth Symphony Orchestra Since 1956, MYSO has been nurturing, challenging, and inspiring generations of students, profoundly changing lives and our community for the better. MYSO has grown from one orchestra and 30 students to become the largest after-school youth orchestra in the country, and one of the most respected. We serve 1,000 of the area's young musicians who come from more than 200 schools, 60 communities, and as many as 14 counties throughout Southeastern Wisconsin and Northern Illinois. We also provide outreach programs to an additional 5,000 youth annually through the more than 80 concerts we perform. The importance of MYSO as a catalyst for youth development and community change has not gone unnoticed.In our 2015-16 season, MYSO received the National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award, the country's highest honor for after school youth arts and humanities programs, presented by the President's Committee on the Arts and the Humanities. MYSO is the only youth orchestra in the country ever to have received this recognition. MYSO is a proud founding member of the United Performing Arts Fund - UPAF. DID YOU KNOW…

  • Nearly 50% of musicians represent populations of color.

  • Close to 40% receive financial aid.

  • 35% of enrollment are members/graduates of our Community Partnership Programs.

  • Financial aid ranges from $330,000 to $350,000 per year, increasing by over 2,000% since 2003.

  • Nearly 20% of members live in City of Milwaukee low-to-moderate income neighborhoods.

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