Photo by O’Neil Arnold.


Interview by Scott Dowd.
Entire contents copyright ©Fearless Designs, Inc. All rights reserved.

Education is more than a program of the Louisville Orchestra. Education is at the core of everything the Louisville Orchestra does. As Director of Education and Community Engagement, Deanna Hoying is responsible for making those educational aspects of the program accessible and for finding new ways for the community to access its orchestra. After almost two decades of working in the education departments of opera companies, including nearly six years with Kentucky Opera, Ms. Hoying returned to her orchestral roots in June of last year. I talked with her about the role of education as well as her ideas for increasing community involvement in the orchestra and the orchestra’s involvement in the community. Although she is a native of Seattle, Ms. Hoying and her husband have made deep roots in Louisville and the region.


SD:  How did you come to live in your dad’s hometown?

DH:  I came with my husband. He was recruited as part of the “Bucks for Brains” program at the University of Louisville for the Cardiovascular Innovation Institute (CII).

SD:  Where were you before this?

DH:  He was at the University of Arizona. We had lived in Tuscon for a number of years and came here with a group of families brought in to start the CII. He grew up in Ohio, so this is familiar territory. The first place they put us was 21C, and we were like, “Yeah, we could live in Louisville.”

SD:  That’s a good start.

DH:  Yes, it made a great impression on us about the spirit of the community. We had some other options in the region that were less appealing. When Julie and Layman Gray sent us to The Kentucky Center where we saw Wynton Marsalis and the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, we knew we could stay here. This is a good place.

SD:  What did you do in Arizona?

DH:  I was at Arizona Opera. Before that I had been with Cincinnati Opera. I was in opera education for eighteen years before making this move.

SD:  You were working for Kentucky Opera before moving to the Louisville Orchestra. Was it a big change?

DH:  It’s funny. When you are in opera education you don’t actually talk a lot about music and the structure of music. You talk about the opera genre and its history and affectations, but not the structure. Now I get to go back to my music teacher roots. I am able to talk here about how music is made.

SD:  Did you ever think about being a professional musician?

DH:  When you are eighteen, you think, “I’m going to play in the New York Philharmonic by the time I’m twenty-one!” I did go to the Cleveland Institute of Music for a performance degree in French horn. But when I decided that performance might not be for me, I went to Temple University for my K-12 certification for vocal and instrumental music and did some graduate work in music education. I studied with a really interesting professor, Edwin Gordon, who was developing early childhood methodologies for how children learn music. His research is along the lines of the Orff and Kodaly methods, but he combines a lot of those ideas in new ways.

SD:  What was your involvement?

DH:  I worked with parents and their children between the ages of eighteen months and three years on developing musicality. It was a very interesting process:  a combination of singing, rhythm and movement. It wasn’t just about singing in major and minor keys. We practiced melodic patterns in the various modes, and we did a lot with movement. This is not about rote memorization. It’s about introducing all different kinds of melodies and rhythmic structures in the brain. The curriculum Professor Gordon developed from this research is called “Jump Right In” and goes from eighteen months through elementary school. It was very eye-opening to work with him and see what these little ones can do. I would do these complex 5/4 rhythms and there were kids who did it with no problem, because no one told them it was hard.

SD:  Do schools here use this curriculum?

DH:  I think it remains a kind of outlier. Orff, Kodaly and Suzuki are still the mainstream methods. Orff in particular is used in Louisville. I’ve been working with the music specialist at JCPS on a lot of things. They are introducing Dalcroze and the study of eurhythmics and multi-rhythmic patterns that was part of my background at the Cleveland Institute.

SD:  In layperson’s terms…

DH:  You had to be able to walk in 4/4 while clapping in 3/4. We had to do all of these complicated patterns between hands and feet, for example. It really helps you think differently about rhythm and its role by creating these patterns in your head. It’s a fabulous tool, and I think now they are starting to look at incorporating movement more into music education in Louisville. That’s very exciting.

SD:  Working with small children, you are literally putting those patterns in their heads by encouraging the development of neural pathways. It will influence the way they perceive the world their entire life.

DH:  Absolutely.

SD:  Isn’t that what Robert Whitney had at the core of his MakingMusic concerts? Different time, different approach, but the goals were there.

DH:  Yes. This year we will celebrate the seventy-fifth anniversary of that program. A lot of people still tell us, “I was a Whitney kid.” They talk about all the different locations, the different kinds of concerts and their impact. One of the things Teddy Abrams and I talked about early on was making that connection again with fourth and fifth graders in particular. We both feel very strongly about that. We want them to be his kids in some way. We want them to be involved with their orchestra and feel at home when they are with us, and to perceive Teddy and the musicians as accessible. I think we are starting to see that already with some of the new things we’re doing.

SD:  So Teddy doesn’t see education as a separate part of the orchestra mission?

DH:  No. He loves doing master classes. He’s been out already to many high schools. We had a large choral ensemble comprised of high school students for Carmina Burana. But he has also done master classes with Eastern High School’s choir, the Youth Performing Arts School, Male High School’s choir and band, and Atherton High School’s band. He will be going to Iroquois and Central High School next. Having taught band, I have to say he is a fabulous teacher. You can hear the change as he asks them for very specific things.

SD:  How do the kids react?

DH:  They are beyond excited that he is there. Some of the girls were literally squealing—which embarrasses him to no end—but it’s hilarious. I think it’s wonderful that the conductor of the Louisville Orchestra is generating that kind of excitement in high school kids. And not just the kids—the music teachers, too! We were with Nan Moore, who is a bit of a legend for her work at Male High School, and he asked the kids, “What is a conductor?” A few people talked about leadership, but Teddy told them, “Nope. That’s not what I do.” Finally, one of the students made the parallel connection to electricity and Teddy said, “Yes. That is exactly how I look at my role. I am conducting all of the electricity and energy that you are generating and we’re focusing it into this one thing.” After that you could feel a change in the room. It was really cool—even Nan said she had learned something. Students need to hear a variety of voices, because sometimes verbalizing in a new way can make a difference. All of a sudden they were viewing themselves and their role in the ensemble in a new way. They started to realize the music was more than just what was on the page, more than just their part—they saw themselves as part of the whole.

SD:  Going back to my own experience: most teachers are so busy getting you ready for the next performance, there isn’t much extra time for esoteric discussions of music.

DH:  Exactly. But why wouldn’t you have them when the change is so palpable and made the next thing they did so much better? The five minutes he invested was really valuable. We talk with teachers about that aspect of education.

SD:  Since we are on schools, tell me about your new program “The Hall Pass.”

DH:  Jason Seber, our Education and Outreach conductor, had been talking with Carla Given-Motes, our box office manager, about this long before I came on board. But it’s a great idea. We are selling students K–12 a season ticket to all performances, with the exception of the WOW! Series, for only $25. We initially thought it would be mostly high school students who can get themselves around. But we’re finding parents like it because it allows them to bring their children to more concerts. It’s a one-time investment that gives them access to all the classics, all the Pops. It’s a much more cost-effective way to bring the whole family.

SD:  Have there been any other surprises?

DH:  We thought most of the high school students would come to hear Matthew Morrison—“Mr. Glee”—and we had a few. Most of them, however, are coming to the Classics concerts. That has shocked me in the best possible way. We have already sold twice as many of these tickets as we thought we would the first year. We still have a lot of great concerts coming up, so it is still a good value and I hope we will have more people take advantage of it.

SD:  You have been busy since your arrival here.

DH:  Well, there were a lot of things brewing that I was able to help distill when I got here. One idea emerged as we were sitting at a Magic of Music concert. Everybody was telling me about Whitney’s Kids and I turned to Brandon Neal, our Education Coordinator, and said, “What can we do with ‘Abrams’ Kids’?” We started working on it and came up with a mentorship program for high school juniors and seniors that will launch next year. They must participate in their school’s program and will be nominated by their teachers. One requirement will be to write an essay about the role of the orchestra in their age group, what it means to them and why they want to participate.

SD:  For those who are accepted, what will this one-year mentorship look like?

DH:  We will purchase Hall Passes for them so they can come to anything we do. We’ll get together once a month and engage them in a couple of ways. As these kids are getting ready to look at colleges, Teddy and I are going to help them know what to look for. We’ll help parents and music teachers guide them, depending on whether they are going into composition, performance or arts administration. We will have opportunities for them to do job shadowing at both the administrative and musician levels. We will also have time for composition and improvisation with Teddy.

SD:  Is that important for non-composers?

DH:  In my studies, there was no composition or improvisation for French horn. If you are classically trained, that’s not something you do a whole lot of unless you are in the composition department or on the jazz track. As we are seeing the new standards coming out at the national level, there is an emphasis on creation and improvisation; but we are not taught how to teach that to students. We are incorporating those elements into the new study guide for MakingMusic.

SD:  This is quite a commitment for Teddy. How many students will you accept into the mentorship program?

DH:  We will take ten to fifteen kids. It will be a very select group that will be chosen from schools all over the city.

SD:  Do other orchestras have similar programs?

DH:  I don’t know of any other orchestra doing something like this, certainly not with this kind of access to the music director.

SD:  This program is for high school students, but you are also planning something for younger students.

DH:  Teddy’s Kids will focus on MakingMusic. A fifth grader from each JCPS elementary school will be selected by their teacher to help Teddy conduct a piece on a MakingMusic program. This goes back to his own experience and having the opportunity to conduct when he was ten years old. He wants to make that opportunity available. He will meet with them and give a couple of classes on the basics of conducting. Not quite as intensive as with the older kids, but an opportunity he feels strongly about.

SD:  Where does the Landfill Orchestra fit into all of these programs?

DH:  That is part of MakingMusic. It has two parts: The Name Symphony, for fourth grade students, is something I came up with as a way for any teacher, regardless of their musical background, to be able to do this program. Students take their own name and create a rhythm from it. You can create a lot of permutations from your name. Once the students have done that, they combine the entire class to create a “Name Symphony.” There can be variations, such as using names from literature they are reading in class—this incorporates English language arts; it gets students thinking about where the emphasis is placed on syllables. In fifth grade, those students will then build their own instruments from recycled materials. The Landfill Orchestra will add melody to rhythms they have already created by using elements from the science curriculum, specifically human impact on the environment. I am also hoping to bring in Don Knaack next year. A graduate of UofL’s School of Music, Don has been a percussionist with the Louisville Orchestra. His nickname is “The Junk Man,” and he is now working all over the country doing residencies on turning recycled materials into musical instruments. I hope this will be a community partnership. How fun would it be to have play stations in our parks system, encouraging people to come and make their own music?

SD:  As Director of Education, what else do you want to accomplish?

DH:  There are a couple of barriers we need to break down. People have a lot of preconceived ideas about who we are and what we do. There is also a misconception that we only do things in the east end of the city. We are all over the place; and for MakingMusic, we are in every elementary school.

SD:  It would be nice to break the Ohio River barrier, too.

DH:  We are working on it. We have a lot going on at The Ogle Center:  MakingMusic concerts, the Humanities concert, LG&E Music Without Borders. I’m hoping that will lead to us being able to take our ensembles into the schools. When Teddy had his Sixth Floor Trio here, people on both sides of the river just went crazy. They are excellent musicians and we were able to do some interesting things:  I took them to Fern Creek High School, Lincoln Elementary and Christian Academy for performances there. I think it helped people understand that we play lots of different music. After that, our numbers for other youth-focused performances shot up! Word got out quickly that these concerts might not be what people expected—that took just one concert.

SD:  That’s the misconception about orchestra and “classical” music in general. It didn’t spring from a single source and has never been monolithic.

DH:  Teddy and I have talked about that, too. There is a perceived artificial construct of the concert hall and how an audience should behave when listening to music. Jorge Mester was talking about this at the Sibelius concert,such as the idea of not clapping between movements. If something moves the audience to applaud, they should do it. Everyone in the orchestra smiles when people clap spontaneously after a movement. Opera patrons clap for arias in the midst of the performance, why shouldn’t patrons of the orchestra? We are starting to change the idea that you only experience this music in a very specific way, in a specific place, at a specific time. It is also what’s so great about having children in the audience:  They clap when they like something. They bring a new energy to the concert experience.

SD:  The orchestra has really been working to meet people where they are, both in terms of their physical location and their knowledge of music.

DH:  We are trying. We have been performing in churches and synagogues and other community spaces with greater access. We have found that we are reengaging former patrons who simply weren’t comfortable coming downtown anymore. Our St. Stephen’s Church concert is a great example of community engagement because we performed with their wonderful choir. It was so much fun and unexpected by most people. I think Teddy even got a few “Amens” and I loved that! Teddy and I both feel—and everyone here at the Louisville Orchestra shares this sentiment—that we are your orchestra. Our door is open, and wherever you are in this region, we are your orchestra. We want people to know who we are and who our musicians are. We want people to take ownership of this organization and involve us in the community. It’s a dialogue, and we don’t have to be the ones to initiate every conversation. I look forward to introducing our current projects and I can’t wait to see what comes next.


For more information about your Louisville Orchestra and to order tickets, go to