The Chicago Musical Pathways Initiative engages some of the most committed musicians to mentor its talented young fellows, so that they can grow and reach their full potential. One such mentor is Ayriole Frost, an active composer, performer, and teacher. Frost, whose bio includes being in just the fifth class of Sistema Fellows at New England Conservatory, received training in leadership, finance, and curriculum for social change, and completed a month-long residency in Venezuela.
Amidst her busy schedule of teaching, writing, and performing, Frost also is the Executive Director of SHIFT: Englewood Youth Orchestra. It is no surprise, then, that the community-motivated Frost has been involved with CMPI from the very beginning, as part of the working group that gave recommendations to the Mellon Foundation.
Frost sees arts equity as the common ground shared by her own organization as well as CMPI. “Both organizations are addressing the lack of racial equity in arts access, content and quality, albeit from different angles,” said Frost in a recent interview. “I have been so excited to be part of another arm of creating equitable arts experiences for young people and encouraging leadership skills for people of color.”
On the invaluable role of CMPI mentors, Frost thoughtfully reflected on her own journey. “As a black professional musician, I recognize that I could have navigated the profession more easily if there had been other people like me throughout my career, and I really want young people of color to have the opportunities I did not have if they choose to be professional musicians.”
Being candid with her mentees and their families about every aspect of her chosen career is the overarching theme of her mentorship philosophy. “I also really love to get to know what else interests my mentees beyond music,” shared Frost. “I have other interests as well, and I know how those can often provide an outlet when music becomes demanding or overwhelming. I like to encourage my young people to voice their opinions and advocate for themselves while creating healthy work habits and making time for self-care.”
Looking back, Frost remembered her own mentors. One in particular had a great impact on her life. “My biggest musical mentor was my high school orchestra director,” she recalled. “We are very different people, but one of the most important things I learned from him was being a well-rounded musician. He introduced me to many ways of being a musician, and also taught us different skills for being musicians rather than just skills to play whatever music was in front of us. I have taken that lesson with me for my entire career.”
The valuable lessons she learned from her own experiences now inform her approach to being an effective mentor. “I recently spoke with a [CMPI] mentee who was down on herself about how her jury went,” said Frost. “I have definitely been there; but we talked about all the other circumstances around this particular jury and how to improve and feel better prepared in the future. Everything is a learning experience!”
TOP: CMPI Mentor and SHIFT: Englewood Executive Director Ayriole Frost.