Christine Witkowski has shaped a musical career in both performance and outreach. At Northwestern University, she studied horn performance with Gail Williams and William Barnewitz, receiving her Bachelor of Music in 2007.
While living in Evanston during her undergraduate studies, Christine began volunteering for Youth Organizations Umbrella Inc. and soon became the program director for “Breakfast Club,” a mentoring and tutoring program for disadvantaged youth. During her time at Northwestern, Christine was fortunate to have many fulfilling musical experiences, including attending the Colorado College Summer music festival, playing principal horn in the New York String Orchestra and attending the Norfolk chamber music festival.
In the fall of 2007, Christine moved to Montreal to study horn with John Zirbel and attend McGill University for her master’s degree. While in Montreal, Christine appeared with the McGill Symphony Orchestra as a soloist playing Haydn's First Horn Concerto, played extra horn with the Montreal Symphony, and was awarded a full fellowship to study at the Aspen Music Festival and School. Dedicated to music outreach, Christine recently won the horn position in the Miami Music Project in Miami, Florida, an organization that is dedicated to bringing music performance to children in the Miami area.
A Talk with Christine Witkowski
How did you hear about the Abreu Fellows program?
A few friends heard about this program and were kind enough to think of me and pass on the information.
Why did you apply?
Musicians today need to be both artists and advocates; music should be a right, not a privilege. I want my career in music to be performing and creating outreach—in particular youth outreach; so this program was exactly what I was looking for.
What tools will you develop during this fellowship and how do you think these tools will be useful in your future post?
I hope to leave this fellowship with a concrete understanding of how to logistically structure and organize a successful program. El Sistema is a thriving, strong model, and gaining inside operational knowledge of this program will be incredibly valuable.
Where do you see yourself in five years? What will you be doing and why?
I plan to create a program that connects a professional chamber orchestra with an El Sistema–like music program for disadvantaged youth. This program would add both music and mentorship into the lives of youth as well as improving the quality of life in the community at large.
Why do you think that music education is important to a child’s development?
As a dyslexic kid, I was constantly behind in school because I didn’t learn the way classes were taught. However, when I started band, I discovered I could process music my own way and still excel. I developed greater self-esteem, and sense of commitment and responsibility to my peers in band. These are traits that help youth to become positive members of their communities for life.
Regarding the present state of music education for children in the U.S., what has been done right and where do you see room for improvement?
There are many fantastic extracurricular music programs in the U.S. that provide challenging and inspiring atmospheres for gifted youth. However, many of these programs only reach youth with advanced musical training and are therefore inaccessible to many, particularly disadvantaged youth. The programs in place are necessary and important for the youth they serve, but must be expanded to include and support youth who otherwise have no music education.
How did you learn about El Sistema?
I heard the Simón Bolívar Youth Orchestra’s recording of Beethoven 5 and 7 with Dudamel conducting a few years ago and was blown away. I immediately read up on El Sistema.
Why do you think El Sistema is unique? What elements made the El Sistema program successful where others were not?
The greatest thing about El Sistema is the ideology behind it: music belongs to everyone. The structure and organization of the program is sound and impressive but I believe the undeniable truth behind this ideology is the real reason El Sistema has been so amazingly successful.
Have you worked with or mentored children in the past?
I was really lucky to have the opportunity to run a program called “Breakfast Club” through Youth Organizations Umbrella, Inc. It was a one-to-one mentoring/tutoring program for youth who needed academic and/or emotional support. My kids were incredible and getting to know them and design a program for them has been one of the greatest experiences of my life.