A Letter from Dr. Sisk
June 24, 2020
Dear MYSO Family,
I write to you, players, parents and sponsors, to announce my retirement as MYSO Music Director and to explain why I made the decision to retire now. I had intended to continue for one more year, until I retire from teaching at Lewis, but circumstances have conspired to convince me that now is the time.
As a Lewis music ensemble, MYSO is subject to regulation by various administrators and committees charged with ensuring the safety of students. Those people will continue evaluating the dangers of COVID-19 throughout the summer and decide how all classes and ensembles will function in the fall. It seems likely that I will be teaching at least three classes online. The protocols for music ensemble rehearsals are not yet determined.
What we have decided is that, given the uncertainty and unfortunate likelihood of the pandemic persisting, we must limit MYSO to string players for the fall semester. The rationale is simple: string players can wear masks; wind players cannot.
That decision having been made I suggested that we invite a string player and conductor to direct MYSO in the fall, and we are looking for the right person now.
That development led me to consider whether I might be able to put together a full orchestra in January, given the uncertainty created by the pandemic. That led me to conclude that retiring now will give the MYSO board and the Lewis University Department of Music more options for the future.
As you know, I have been the Music Director since 1991. It has been one of the joys of my career to conduct this orchestra. The relationships I have formed with players and parents have been most rewarding. The MYSO board and Lewis University have been supportive and generous.
So this is thank you and good-bye. I hope to see some of you again at future concerts. Whatever happens, keep making music. We need it more than ever.
Would you like to submit a Farewell Message to Dr. Sisk? Fill out this form and it will be forwarded to him!
The Metropolitan Youth Symphony Orchestra (MYSO) was originally founded in 1959 by Mary K. Rosen. In the beginning, MYSO included a mere 14 music students and at the time was known as the Chicago Young Judea Symphony. In 1968, parents of the orchestra members formed a non-profit organization for the purpose of providing financial and managerial support. The name of the orchestra was changed at that time to the Metropolitan Youth Symphony Orchestra.
MYSO was under the continuous direction of its founder and conductor until her death, at which time Pamela Overstreet Culley assumed the duties of director and conductor. Upon her retirement in 1985, Daniel Sommerville assumed her position. He was followed by James MacDonald in 1986 and Philip J. Bauman in 1988.
After a hiatus of two seasons, a process of dissolution began. The board, under the leadership of Nancy Denton, decided to relocate MYSO from Chicago to the Joliet area. Auditions were held in May of 1991 and Lawrence Sisk was hired for MYSO’s first season in Joliet. Dr. Sisk remained music director until 2020, for nearly 30 years. Dr. Benjamin Firer became music director in 2020. Mary Jane Johnson was hired in 1992 as executive director to oversee the day to day business operations of the orchestra. This position was later filled by Mrs. Pam Nogal in 2001, and Audra Sybert in 2016.
In 2009, MYSO was awarded the prestigious St. Genesius Award for outstanding achievement in the arts by Lewis University.
Board of Directors
Pam Nogal, president
Michael Gorcowski, vice-president
Daniela Broderick, treasurer
Lawrence Sisk, music director
Audra Sybert, executive director
Mel Gray, Jr.
Mary Jane Johnson
Rev. Daniel Torson
The orchestra, under the direction of Dr. Benjamin Firer, rehearses on Wednesday evenings from late August through May in Ives Hall at Lewis University.
All members are expected to comply with the guidelines in the MYSO Handbook.
Benjamin Firer is thrilled to join the faculty at Lewis University as Music Director of the Metropolitan Youth Symphony Orchestra for the 2020-2021 season. An award-winning conductor, Firer is active throughout the Chicago area. Currently, as Director of Orchestra and Opera at Northern Illinois University, he directs the NIU Philharmonic, Opera Theatre, and teaches courses in music theory, orchestration and orchestral literature. At NIU, Firer helped design a new Master’s in Conducting degree program and built a thriving graduate orchestral conducting studio. Along with his duties at NIU, Firer is on faculty as conductor with the Northeastern Illinois University and the Chicago Chamber Music Festival.
Passionate about inspiring the next generation of musicians, Firer led the Dubuque Symphony Youth Orchestra during their 50th anniversary season, culminating in a side-by-side concert with the acclaimed Minneapolis Youth Symphony. A committed educator, he was engaged as as a teaching artist through the Yale University Music in Schools Initiative, providing instruction at the John C. Daniels Magnet School while serving as Music Director of the Yale-Saybrook College Orchestra. Prior to his current appointment, Benjamin held posts as Interim Associate Director of Orchestras at the Pennsylvania State University, Summer Philharmonic Conductor at the Merit School of Music, Director of Orchestras at Juniata College, and Music Director of the Central Pennsylvania Youth Orchestras.
Firer was selected as an Emerging Conductor with the Peninsula Music Festival and as the conducting fellow for the Atlantic Music Festival. He has garnered awards including The American Prize in Conducting, The Woolsey Concerto Competition, Yale Chamber Music Competition, Ellen Battell Stoeckel Fellowship, and the Long Island University Conductors Award. Recognized for his musical entrepreneurship, he was granted the SUNY Thayer Fellowship in the Arts and the Emma Peters Hooper Endowed Award.
As a guest conductor, Firer has made appearances with the symphony orchestras of Champaign-Urbana, Dubuque, DuPage, Miami, Fargo-Morehead, Pennsylvania Chamber Orchestra, Orchestra de la Francophonie, Northwestern University Opera Theatre, Alice Millar Brass Ensemble, and New Music New Haven. In demand as a clinician for school and youth orchestras, he collaborates regularly with the Midwest Young Artists, The People’s Music School, McHenry County Youth Orchestras, Rockford Symphony Youth Orchestras and CPS All-City Orchestras.