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For most people, the journey from musician to orchestra conductor is a long one. But Stephen Spottswood has held the baton for nearly three years as director of Urban Strings Columbus Youth Orchestra, a group that offers underprivileged musicians the chance to hone their skills and perform in a variety of private and community events. Spottswood moves easily among musical roles: from performing violin, viola and cello, to rearranging classic compositions with modern themes, to recording clever music videos with his twin brother, also a gifted musician at Capital.
My identical twin brother, Stanley Jr.,graduated from Capital with his degree in music technology. He’s a talented pianist guitarist and producer. He and I have made music together our entire lives. In 2013 we released an album called “The BrotherProject,” which can be found on iTunes. My younger brother, Simeon, is a sophomore at SUNY ESF studying dendrology. He enjoys playing guitar and singing. My sister Savoliais a freshman at West Virginia University studying forest resource management. She’sgifted in singing and piano. My mother has a good voice, but won’t claim it! My father is the choir director at Our Lady of Good Counsel High School in Olney, Maryland.He’s a true musician, an educator, composer,arranger, pianist, clinician – and a pastor.
He taught us music theory, rhythm, tempo and everything else. In high school we formed a jazz trio and played for assisted living facilities in our community. We loaded equipment in the van, dressed professionally, used our people skills around the audience and staff, then loaded everything back in the van and headed home. Not only was dad teaching us how to be professional musicians, he was also showing how our gifts could make us money if we practiced. “Paid practice,” he would say … we left those assisted homes knowing that there were smiles on the residents’ faces, as well as $75 dollars in our pockets.
Their former director was resigning and they were looking to hire a new one. Cedric Adderley, the former Dean of The College at Capital, heard about the opportunity and suggested I apply. He also wrote a letter of recommendation, which caught the attention of the program staff. I was about to begin my junior year at Capital University when I accepted the directorship position.
Exposure to excellence is key. If you hang around the wise, you will become wise. My colleagues that study music education with a focus in strings serve as coaches for Urban Strings. I’m proud of this integration.
We rehearse three Saturdays a month at Mount Vernon AME church, free of charge – and for that we are eternally grateful. Great institutions like Capital and Mount Vernon embrace the arts and the education of our youth. We are unique from other youth orchestras, because we perform three to four times a month at community and private events. This exposure may be the most valuable aspect to our program.
Capital’s Conservatory of Music is spectacular. And the value of the conservatory is the faculty. I have grown tremendously as an educator, learning from my professors’ experiences, knowledge and wisdom. My junior year, my brother and I arranged the “Habanera” movement from Bizet’s Carmen suite into a hip-hop/classical duet. We performed it with a beat, viola and grand piano, and we received a standing ovation from the conservatory. Several professors offered to help shape our vision for out-of-the-box music to be taught to kids in music programs across the world. Capital’s “big vision” mentality is part of what has shaped me into the educator and community activist that I am today.
I plan to teach string orchestra and/or choir next year. The thing that really makes me tick is working with children who have less. My mentor, Catherine Willis, says, ”Students that have more continue to get more, and students who have less continue to get less.” My mission is to model and exemplify nothing but excellence in the classroom, and education is the perfect avenue to do that.