Most mentors make time in their schedules to help a young person achieve his or her goals. Dr. Allan Dennis has taken a different approach. He's made a career of creating a nurturing musical environment for students from every background and every level of ability.
"People devote their lives to different things," said Dennis. "I've devoted my life to students and creating an environment where students can grow."
The embodiment of that environment is Midwest Young Artists. Dennis founded MYA in 1993. Since then, it has grown into full-curriculum music school with five orchestras, dozens of ensembles, chorale and jazz programs, and music theory instruction. His primary goals for serving students are providing top-quality music, an educationally nurturing environment and a supportive social structure.
"You have to create a nurturing environment for the genius to show through," Dennis said.
Dennis has seen first-hand what can happen when genius is helped along. He first spotted Chris Falzone at a chamber music competition when Chris was about 10 years old. He later began traveling to Chicago from Virginia twice a month to study with Dennis. The effort and the rigorous travel schedule paid off, and Chris was named a 2002 Davidson Fellow.
"He was the first student I ever made that effort with because he was just so exceptional," Dennis said of Chris. "He's the best chamber pianist I've ever seen at his age."
But Dennis is not interested solely in remarkable musical talent. In fact, although he's committed to developing musical talent among his students, he considers music to be something of a tool for accomplishing personal growth.
"Whatever the draw is for a student, we want them to learn about life," Dennis said. "They remember MYA as the way to learn how to work, how to make a positive influence in their lives. We use music to learn discipline and how to work hard. Working hard is more important than succeeding."
Dennis illustrates his point by sharing the story of a former student. Now a college graduate and the manager of a bookstore, the student had entered MYA as a teenage gang member. He credited Dennis and MYA for providing the environment to turn his life around.
Dennis seems genuinely pained that he cannot personally provide the support and nurturing environment that every child needs to succeed. He encourages others to watch for the opportunity to help a talented child who might otherwise go unnoticed.
"Keep your eyes open," Dennis said. "You never know where those kids will come from."
©2004 Davidson Institute for Talent Development
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