Curtis Institute graduates to devote a year of service to community

 The BOK trio (from left) oboist Alexandra von der Embse, bassonist Wade Coufal and keyboardist Michelle Cann, will be the first Curtis graduates to participate in ArtistYear. (Photos provided by Pete Checchia)

The BOK trio (from left) oboist Alexandra von der Embse, bassonist Wade Coufal and keyboardist Michelle Cann, will be the first Curtis graduates to participate in ArtistYear. (Photos provided by Pete Checchia)

This fall, the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia will inaugurate a new service year for graduates from the renowned music conservatory.

“ArtistYear,” similar to AmeriCorps or City Year, will begin as a pilot program during the 2014-2015 academic year. It will provide housing, medical insurance, and a small stipend (altogether worth about $24,000) to enable recent graduates to give back to their communities before they formally launch their  careers.

“There are other institutions of higher education that are adding what some of us are calling ‘plus-one years,'” said Curtis executive vice president Elizabeth Warshawer. “You add a year to what would normally be your higher education stay. That plus-one year is your giveback year, your fellowship year, where you take the learning — for us it’s in the arts, for other institutions it will be in other places — to encourage a service mentality.”

Three recent Curtis graduates were chosen to invent and implement a service program that will somehow use their musical training to improve their communities.

Bassoonist Wade Coufal, oboist Alexandra von der Embse, and pianist (keyboard) Michelle Cann have formed the BOK trio, an acronym of their instruments and the name of the late Curtis Institute Founder Marie Louis Curtis Bok (the name is also a pun, phonetically).

How they will leverage the new trio is still to be determined. The threesome has the rest of the summer to figure out a plan that the next set of plus-one year graduates can easily step into.

“With ArtistYear, we’re implementing something we hope we can replicate, to expand,” said Cann. “We want to bridge many other artistic fields, but even within Curtis it’s exciting that we can work for an opportunity for more Curtis graduates to go out and be leaders.”

During Cann’s studies at Curtis, she taught piano at Play On! Philly, an after-school orchestra program for disadvantaged kids created by a Curtis alumnus, Stanford Thomson. Cann also created Keys to Connect, a program that enabled parents to better bond with their children through side-by-side piano lessons.

Whatever the ArtistYear project becomes, it will be able to draw on the international network of graduates and instructors associated with the Curtis Institute.

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