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As I look back on my time in CMPI, I can’t believe how fast the last four years have gone by. I first joined CMPI in 8th grade. Five years ago, I saw an advertisement for a panel discussion called How Gen Z Can Change the Face(s) of Classical Music. It was at this event where the creation of the Chicago Musical Pathways Initiative was announced. During this time, I was in a program that would have offered me free tuition to a private boarding school. Instead of going through with that program, I told my mom that I wanted to stay in Chicago and audition for CMPI. At the time, I had no idea what exactly I was getting into. I just knew that I wanted to be a professional musician and that CMPI had the resources to help make that dream a reality.

CMPI Oboe Zachary Allen performs Mozart during a masterclass with CSO Music Director Riccardo Muti. | Todd Rosenberg Photography.

Towards the end of 2019, I had a lot of musical firsts. I had my first ever performance jury, played in my first ever CMPI recital, and was even able to purchase my first professional quality instrument with help from CMPI. Although there was initially a very steep learning curve, I was keeping up and making headway towards my goal. In the spring of my freshman year, the pandemic hit and we all went into lockdown. While things like Zoom lessons and virtual orchestra performances seem commonplace now, I remember it was a very scary time for the music world filled with uncertainty and anxiety about the future.

In the midst of the pandemic, an opportunity arose for a group of CMPI fellows to participate in a masterclass with Maestro Riccardo Muti at Symphony Center (with Maestro Muti coaching virtually from Ravenna, Italy). I, along with four other CMPI fellows, were invited to play in this masterclass. While I was honestly terrified leading up to it, it ended up going very well, and that masterclass has remained one of my most impactful musical experiences.

In the spring of the following year, the first NIMAN (now Equity Arc) National Pathways Festival was held here in Chicago. Playing in an orchestra filled with kids my age who all looked like me and had undergone a similar experience to mine in CMPI, and being conducted by Maestro Muti (this time in person) was an incredible opportunity. Throughout the week, we worked with the incredible Lina Gonzalez-Granados, as well as several CSO musicians. The final performance at Symphony Center was definitely one of my favorite – if not my favorite – orchestra performances in high school.

Earlier this year, Equity Arc held their second National Pathways Festival in Cincinnati, and I was able to reconnect with my peers I had met the year prior, and make new friends as well. In addition to organizing their own events, CMPI paid for my tuition to participate in many other amazing music programs like Interlochen Arts Camp and the Curtis Mentor Network. It is easy to say that without the support of CMPI, I would not be where I am today.

Just last week, I had my final Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestra Concert. We performed one of my new favorite pieces, Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, and I had the incredible opportunity to conduct the opening piece of our concert as the 2023 Music Director’s Student Conducting Fellow.

I auditioned at seven colleges and conservatories and was accepted and received significant scholarships from six. I ultimately made the decision to attend Oberlin College and Conservatory as a dual-degree student. I chose Oberlin for two main reasons, the first being the teacher, Robert Walters, who plays English Horn in the Cleveland Orchestra.The second reason is the environment of campus. Before committing to Oberlin, I had visited the school several times, met with the teacher and current students, and even had the opportunity to sit in on a few classes and masterclasses. It is very easy to get caught up in various external factors when selecting a school; however, I feel that the most important thing is to choose a school based on how well you would be able to thrive in that environment.

It feels like yesterday when I auditioned for CMPI, and I am very proud of the progress I’ve made.


Zachary Allen

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