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November 15, 2018:

In Upstate New York, the Empire State Youth Orchestra CHIME program has students traveling the country, a new “Young Leaders” program, and a teacher who has come full circle from being a student at ESYO to being a teaching artist at the program. We learned all that and more from Becky Calos, Executive Director of ESYO CHIME.



Mission & Vision: ESYO CHIME seeks to break down the barriers that exist for many children to achieve musical excellence. CHIME seeks to the fill these gaps, providing free, daily ensemble and private instruction, practice space, instruments, transportation, guidance and mentorship. With this level of support, CHIME musicians can have an equal opportunity to successfully audition into one of ESYO’s performing ensembles where they will be able to pursue excellence within an environment that defies any one economic label.

Number of Students Served: 100+

Ages of Students Served: Grades 1-8 with a Young Leaders Program for high school students

Number of Sites: 3

Stories from Becky Calos, Executive Director of ESYO

When did CHIME start programming this year? What has been the most exciting part of your program’s start?

ESYO CHIME launched its fourth school year programming in early September, with staggered starts at each of its four sites, including our newest in Troy, NY. With a new Young Leaders Program in place at our CHIME “hub” in Schenectady, it was exciting to see our oldest members, now in high school, returning to the program to serve a dual role as mentor and student.

Any great student stories?

It was great to catch up with Taina, who spent ten days in Los Angeles this past summer participating in the National Sistema Take A Stand Festival, and with Da’Vaughn, whose talent illustrated in a CHIME video share prompted the director of Bassworks at Peabody to invite him on full scholarship to the Bassworks camp in August. It will be wonderful to see what progress these two talented CHIME musicians make this season, and to watch our youngest cohort of 6 and 7 year olds grow and develop new skills.

What are you most excited about this year for CHIME? 

I am most looking forward to creating strong communication systems to effectively link our four CHIME sites and to support our Teaching Artists in their day-to-day work. Our Teachers are our greatest asset and I look forward to providing each of them with the tools they need to be successful, and to make CHIME the best program it can be the children we serve.

What are the biggest challenges you anticipate facing?

The biggest challenge I face this season is to recruit and retain highly qualified Teaching Artists. CHIME operates during prime studio hours, and runs up against the end of the school day, factors that make it difficult to hire musicians who either teach privately, or in the schools. Because of our geographic distance from major conservatories or schools of music, it is hard to rely on music students or recent graduates. I hope to pursue various strategies outlined in my learning plan to successfully address this challenge and develop a reliable pipeline to support the continued expansion of CHIME.

What are you most excited about in your first year in the PRESTO Cohort?

I am most excited to engage in meaningful dialogue about how best to serve the next generation of young artists and to focus my energy and attention on learning from others in the field who have built outstanding programs and are doing amazing work each day.

A year from now, what do you hope to have learned/gained/accomplished by being a part of PRESTO?

I hope to have gained insight from my colleagues on the pathways they have developed to overcome challenge, and I hope to build deeper connections within my community in celebration of the power of music to transform lives.

Teaching Artist Spotlight: Esther Witherell


About Esther:

“Esther is an Empire State Youth Orchestra (ESYO) alum, and she served as a CHIME Mentor previous to coming on board as a Teaching Artist to help launch our newest site in Troy. Esther represents a complete circle within the ESYO family, from her start in String Orchestra, advancing to Repertory and then to Youth Orchestra, attending college, and then returning after earning her degree in Music Performance and Education to give back to the community that supported her growth as a musician. To see her today, working with our youngest members at our newest site at Carroll Hill Elementary School in Troy is very special!” – Becky Calos, Executive Director


Learn more about CHIME!

To learn more about CHIME, visit their website!


In the Fall of 2018, El Sistema USA launched a 3-year, $1 million-dollar investment into 13 organizations in 11 states across the country to bring free music education to underserved youth. The Program for Rising El Sistema Organizations (PRESTO) is a significant financial investment to support organizational growth and capacity development, and also provides professional development and mentorship resources investing in organizational leadership. You can learn more about PRESTO here.

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