Lindsey Gray Kindl
Horn, 2003-2006

“I lived for Monday night rehearsals,” says Lindsey Gray Kindl, reflecting on her three years in the AYWS. “Monday nights are tough. I was always tired. High school is not easy. But Dr. Stewart always brought comfort and joy to rehearsal.”

Now, as a music specialist at Jenkins Elementary School in Lawrenceville, GA, Lindsey tries to bring that same comfort and joy to more than 1000 students – from kindergarteners to fifth graders – who participate in her music class every week. “We experience music through singing, dancing, playing, improvising, creating, and composing,” she says.

Before becoming an educator, the University of Georgia graduate was a cast member of the Tony Award-winning musical Blast!, a production inspired by the excitement and energy of drum and bugle corps shows. She performed as part of the 2011-12 USA National Tour, Japanese National Tour and also at the South Korea World Expo.

In part, the commitment and discipline Lindsey needed to thrive as a professional performer was developed as a member of AYWS. She specifically remembers the intensity of the ensemble’s rehearsals in advance of its 2004 performance at Carnegie Hall. “The rehearsals leading up to this performance were grueling but focused,” she explains. “It showed me what intense hard work within an ensemble could feel like.”

In addition to valuing the challenging rehearsals, Lindsey also appreciated the opportunity to elevate her musicianship by performing with peers who were just as invested in music as she was. “I was not able to tell you at the time, but now I reflect and understand that I felt at home around the other members,” she says. “I was not the closest of friends with every single person in the ensemble, but it did not matter. Those students were just like me. It is a comfort that a highly skilled musician cannot always find during their high school years. It felt like home, reassuring me that my unusual passion was not so unusual after all. It taught me the importance of preparation and especially teamwork.”

Lindsey’s experiences in AYWS also shaped her career as a music teacher. “This organization helped me set the standard for my work ethic very high, which of course has bled over to every aspect of my life and will continue to do so,” she says. Additionally, she still takes cues from her former conductor Dr. Stewart, even though they’re not the same energetic, on-stage musical cues she was on the receiving end of in high school – they’re aspirational cues. “He is kind and inspiring,” Lindsey explains. “He is the exact role model as a musician and leader that I strive to be.”

In reflecting on the importance of the AYWS and music education, she adds, “Children are the future. Music brings joy and comfort. An organization like this gears students for greatness, and that is the type of community I want to live in.”

Sandra Bailey
Bassoon, 2009-2011

Bassoonist Sandra Bailey splits her time between Chicago and South Africa – and has been everywhere in between. “Music defies all boundaries,” she says. “I've traveled all across the world and there is always music and it is always inspirational.”

Currently the principal bassoon of both the Chicago Sinfonietta and Kwazulu-Natal Philharmonic based in Durban, South Africa, the AYWS alumna has built a sparkling performance career in a short time since graduating from Northwestern University in 2015. She credits part of her career success to a simple yet valuable skill she acquired while playing with AYWS: punctuality. “[AYWS] taught me to show up on time,” she explains. “This is a lesson that has applied to every aspect of my adult life.”

Of course, she also nurtured her passion for music and discovered the importance of professionalism, high standards and musicianship while playing in the group. We can’t wait to see where in the world she will go next!

Jack Walker
Saxophone, 2005 - 2007

Ten years after playing principal saxophone in AYWS, Jack Walker has built a career out of playing and teaching music right here in Atlanta. As the Associate Band Director at Pace Academy, Jack co-teaches all band classes for 5th grade through 12th grade including jazz band, concert band and pep band. He also serves as the Assistant Director of the Metro Atlanta Youth Wind Ensemble.
Though Jack admits that his involvement in AYWS was particularly helpful in preparing him to be a music major in college and pursue his passion for music as a career, he also feels strongly that involvement in AYWS has other valuable applications for musicians. AYWS “allows an easy way to build close friendships with fellow musicians around the city and develop life skills such as dedication, discipline, character, social skills, and hard work. It helps prepare you for the real world and for any career, musical or otherwise.”
Jack looks back on his time in AYWS as a valuable time for building friendships with other musicians that would endure through college and beyond. It was also a time for challenging and stretching himself musically. When Jack traveled with the AYWS to Dallas, Texas, to perform the Lord of the Rings Symphony with the Dallas Youth Wind Ensemble, it was the first time he played a symphony in its entirety. The nature of the trip also made it feel like a professional gig (minus getting paid, of course).
As a teacher, Jack knows first-hand the importance of giving young musicians the opportunity to play at a higher level and have new and diverse musical experiences. When speaking to the importance of music, Jack says, “Music is a part of us all. It searches our hearts and grabs a hold of our emotions in a way that mere words do not. You can talk all day, but the power of melodies, dynamics, and tension and release creates a visceral experience that connects us to others, ourselves, and to God.”

Dave Adams
Horn, 2005 - 2008

It may sound cliché to say that Dave Adams wouldn’t be where he is today without the AYWS, but it couldn’t be more true — the alumnus fell in love with Chicago during the ensemble’s visit there, and now serves as the director of marketing and communications for the Chicago Children’s Choir.

In this role, Dave oversees the strategy and execution of all organizational marketing activities that support choral programs for 4,400 Chicago youth (ages 8-18) each year. Like many other AYWS alums, he believes the ensemble provided him with meaningful experiences that shaped his personal growth and career trajectory.

“The AYWS gave me the discipline and skills to work hard and work well with others, which are invaluable in college and beyond,” says Dave, a graduate of the University of Georgia. “It challenges youth with rigorous repertoire and high performance standards that require discipline and dedication, preparing them for real-world success regardless of their future vocations.”

Dave fondly recalls the AYWS’s Monday night rehearsals — and even the associated commutes — which were a welcome reprieve from the ordinary and provided an opportunity to shed day-to-day concerns and immerse himself in music.
“Any opportunity to step outside of your bubble and interact with people you’d otherwise never meet is a good one,” he explains. “The AYWS challenges young people socially and musically in a safe and nurturing environment, allowing them not just to make music together, but to better understand one another.”
Undoubtedly, his genuine appreciation for the opportunities afforded by the AYWS are linked to his deeply rooted belief that music is fundamentally important.
Music educates the whole human and builds thoughtful and compassionate citizens,” Dave says. “It communicates across all boundaries: language, race, religion, class or otherwise. In a cultural and political climate that is extremely volatile and divided, music is a tool that unites us in our humanity.”

Kunal Lahiry

Kunal Lahiry
Piano, 2005-2009
As a pianist, Kunal Lahiry spends a significant amount of time practicing and performing independently, but he says one of the most valuable skills he learned in the AYWS was learning how to play with others.
“Having to follow a conductor was a big challenge and induced a lot of stress at times, but it forced me to prepare in advance and be even more secure with my part so I could focus my energy on listening to the ensemble,” he says. “Now that I’m dedicating more of my time to collaborating with singers, these skills I've been honing since I was 14 are paying off. “
Kunal, who has a bachelor’s degree in piano performance from McGill University, is currently pursuing a master’s degree in vocal piano accompaniment from Hochschule für Musik "Hanns Eisler" in Berlin, Germany. Since his time as an AYWS member, he has acquired a plethora of musical accolades, including winning the Brevard Music Center piano competition and placing second in the XXVI Flame competition in Paris. He will soon make his solo concert debut in Paris at l'Eglise américaine at the end of October 2016.  
The four-year AYWS veteran says his experience in the ensemble was life changing. “For me, the AYWS opened up a network of people in Atlanta who were just like me,” he explains. “It was such a driven environment—everybody was pushing themselves, not just with music but also academics and sports. Everyone had big aspirations. AYWS motivated me to work harder so that I could feel worthy of being in such an ensemble.”
Kunal says his favorite AYWS memory occurred his first year in the ensemble when he performed at the Midwest Conference in Chicago. He truly got to know his fellow musicians, and says it was the first time he had met such interesting, passionate, and ambitious people his own age. “It was really encouraging and inspiring,” he says.  
For Kunal, music is simply everything. “Sharing what I find so special about music with others is exciting and deeply touching,” he says. The AYWS afforded him many opportunities to do just that, and he continues to build upon those experiences in his musical studies today. 

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Joe Binney
Clarinet 2005-2006

Want to trade stocks for free? Yep, there’s an app for that – and AYWS alumnus Joe Binney leads the team that makes it.

As Vice President of Product Engineering for Robinhood, he manages the commission-free stock-trading app for iOS, Android and Web. Prior to joining the Palo Alto-based company, Joe worked for Facebook on News Feed – a job he landed after acquiring a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering and a master’s degree in computer science from Stanford University.

Joe was a clarinetist with the AYWS for one year, during which he had the opportunity to perform in Carnegie Hall. “It was an insane experience to perform in such an illustrious concert hall as a teenager,” he says.

He appreciates this experience and many others he had during his time with the ensemble. “AYWS gives you the opportunity to challenge yourself and develop your musicianship. You get to work on challenging repertoire that you couldn’t tackle at your high school—or even at All-State!—and every week you get to meet up with a group of talented musicians who share the same passion for music. It’s tough to find this kind of experience anywhere else.”

While Joe did not pursue a career in music, he says he learned valuable skills as a member of the group, which have helped him in his profession. “In music, it’s easy to focus on your own part and lose track of the rest of the ensemble, but Dr. Stewart always reminded us to listen to the other parts while we were playing. This skill has helped me become a better listener, which is incredibly important as a manager.”

“I feel like I really got a lot out of my experience in AYWS,” he continues. “Music really stretches you to grow—you develop a sense of discipline, you learn to work with a team, and you find your inner artist. For most of the well-rounded successful people I know today, music has been an important part of their lives. I just made my first donation to the AYWS because I want to help ensure that others have the same kind of opportunity I had!”

Erin Fleming

Erin Fleming
Flute 2006-2007

As a full-time musician and a full-time soldier, Erin Fleming knows the value of hard work. SPC Erin Fleming is a fifer in the United States Army Old Guard Fife and Drum Corps, a unit of active duty soldiers who play a crucial role in military ceremonies and perform shows to unite the public with its national history. The U. S. Army Old Guard Fife and Drum Corps is a unit made up of active duty soldiers, usually with graduate degrees in flute performance, who carry on the traditions installed during George Washington's command of the U. S. Army.
Though Erin always had her sights set on a career in flute performance, she had not considered joining a military ensemble until she was pursuing her Master of Music degree at Florida State University. Making the transition from classical musician to U. S. Army soldier wasn’t easy. All members of the Fife and Drum Corps are required to go through Basic Combat Training (BCT). Erin says she was successful, in large part, because she drew upon her strengths as a musician. “The discipline I learned as a musician definitely gave me the strength I needed to survive. BCT is challenging physically, but even more so psychologically and emotionally.  One needs thick skin and high levels of motivation, perseverance, and resilience, all of which are crucial to pursue a career in music.”
Erin has been a long-time believer in the fortifying power of music in a young person’s life. “Music offers so many things in terms of education: a chance for students to develop skills such as work ethic, goal-setting, accountability, and teamwork, all of which are necessary for a successful adult professional life.”
She remembers receiving such an education during her time in AYWS. Erin recalls, “The standards are high in AYWS, and that positive peer pressure helped me to hold myself accountable to do my part.  Everyone in the Fife and Drum Corps is expected to perform on the same professional level with limited rehearsal time, so the accountability is crucial.”

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Austin Lewis Hollimon
Trombone 2005-2008

Planning on watching the Rio Olympics in a few months? Keep an eye out for AYWS alumnus Austin Lewis Hollimon.

The veteran trombonist is currently training to join the U.S. Olympic Team as a 400m hurdler, and he says his success on the track is strongly linked to his personal growth as a member of the AYWS.
“Becoming a part of AYWS was my first introduction to institutional excellence and the kind of natural competition that helped me really reach for my potential in all aspects of my life,” says Hollimon.
“On Monday evenings, I learned how truly fulfilling it was to work with a committed group of people. I found inspiration that made me a better musician, student, and athlete. It was a catalyst for me to excel in many endeavors.”
In addition to keeping busy on the track, the Princeton University graduate and 2013 NCAA champion is a former member of Teach for America and also a co-founder of Commit Youth Inc., which leverages student passion to increase academic performance.
“Mike Rowe once said, ‘If you want success, never follow your passion, but always bring it with you,’ and that has always stuck with me,” Hollimon explains. 
“I found my first love in music at AYWS, and even though I’m not pursuing music professionally, my experience has served me well everywhere I’ve gone. I’ve brought that same passion to clearing hurdles and have been amazed at where it’s taken me. Hopefully, it will bring me to the medal stand in Rio, Brazil.” 

And Hollimon has one last thing to share with his fellow musicians: “I have to send a special shout out to trombones everywhere… Keep sliding!”

Frances Allitt
Flute 2003-2006

Frances Allitt’s journey after AYWS brought her all the way to London, where she is a reporter and columnist for The Antiques Trade Gazette, an art and antiques magazine.  Frances completed Bachelor of Arts degrees in Music and Art History from Emory University and has a Master’s Degree in History of Art from the Courtauld Institute of Art in London.
Music has always played an important role in her life, but Frances found that when she moved overseas, it became a way to stay connected to what she loves while making new relationships abroad. During her first year in London, she joined a wind ensemble and now she plays in a flute choir called “Opal Flutes.” Grateful to be able to continue playing in an ensemble, she says, “AYWS taught me that there’s nothing like showing up to a rehearsal to get your brain firing on different cylinders and make you feel happy.”

Frances remembers her time in AYWS fondly, citing Dr. Stewart’s knack for making rehearsals “seem like exciting challenges” as just one of many reasons that she enjoyed being a member of the ensemble for three years. Her favorite performance memory, she recalls, was when the ensemble performed on the Carnegie Hall stage in New York in 2005, adding that it was a “once in a lifetime sort of experience.”

Sometimes, however, the best moments of AYWS were the simplest ones: “I remember really loving a lot of the people in the group. Sometimes it was so much fun just hanging out before concerts.”
Years after her time in AYWS, Frances continues to make music a meaningful part of her life, saying “Playing music was one of the most important things I did when I was younger…it teaches you to push yourself individually and work as a team.”

Alison Beskin
Flute 2005-2009

Flutist Alison Beskin is in her second year of law school at the University of Virginia and is currently interning with the Securities and Exchange Commission in New York City. She performs legal research and works with attorneys to protect investors. She will be joining the New York law firm of Cravath, Swaine & Moore as a Summer Associate in May.
While Alison may not be playing her flute as much now that she’s on Wall Street, she previously studied music at Princeton University and later the Royal Academy of Music, and recognizes the important and ongoing role music—and AYWS—plays in her life.
“AYWS prepared me for college and graduate school by teaching me how to work hard, both in general and in an ensemble setting,” she explains. “AYWS also prepared me for my legal career for very similar reasons. The legal profession requires meticulous attention to detail, which is something I learned from the methodical way in which Dr. Stewart approaches music during rehearsals.”
She vividly remembers arriving to her first AYWS rehearsal as a freshman in high school and looking around the room, immediately realizing how fortunate she was to have the opportunity to play with such amazing musicians. Now, she enjoys coming back and playing in the AYWS alumni concert in Atlanta Symphony Hall.
“I remember being a high schooler when other alumni used to come back to play with us, and returning to the stage with AYWS as an alumna brings back years of great memories!” she says.
A dedicated supporter of the AYWS, Alison wants younger musicians to have the same opportunities she had with ensemble when she was in high school.
“I was fortunate to attend a high school with a great arts program,” she explains. “However, some students may not have access to strong arts programs in their own schools. AYWS gives students the ability to play in an amazing ensemble under the direction of a world-class conductor. It’s also great because it gives students the chance to meet other musicians, who will likely become professional colleagues.”
Speaking of networking and meeting other musicians, Alison says AYWS students should feel free to reach out to her if they want to discuss careers in music or music in general. She’s always happy to offer advice and to talk about music!

Jason Alexander
French Horn 2003-2004

Jason Alexander is chief resident of internal medicine and transitional year residency programs at MacNeal Hospital in Chicago. In this role, he helps manage the hospital’s residency programs, supervises clinical work, and also teaches and mentors current medical students. He attended Emory University for his undergraduate and medical school studies, and recently completed a three-year residency in internal medicine at the University of Chicago. 
While there’s no direct correlation between his current job and music, Jason insists that AYWS played an important role in his career trajectory.

“Approaching medicine, I was actually concerned going into college about whether being a music major would hurt my chances of getting into medical school,” he says. “Looking back now, I realize how wrong I was to be worried about it.”

Jason believes the communications skills he learned through music have proved to be the most beneficial. “When I see patients in the hospital or in the clinic, I can tell you I am exceedingly unlikely to be thinking about organic chemistry (a class a loved!) or biochemistry,” he explains. “Instead, I’m trying to figure out how to communicate very complicated things to a patient that has no medical training whatsoever.”

“In music, you practice complex communication techniques constantly,” he continues. “When it came time to transition from the medical school classroom to seeing patients, this was natural for me. AYWS helped keep music a part of my college experience and in essence better prepared me for medicine than any of the science courses that I took.”

From tackling some of the wind repertoire’s most challenging literature to making his radio debut on NPR’s “From the Top” with Christopher O’Riley, Jason views his experiences in AYWS as invaluable.

He fondly recalls a farewell speech Dr. Stewart gave to the ensemble right before his last AYWS concert, saying something to the effect of: “Take this moment in as much as you can. Some of you will continue to be involved in music, some of you will not; whatever you choose to do, this group of people you have been performing with this past year is going to be one of the most talented groups you will play with in your careers. Appreciate it, because these moments are special.”  

Jason says he can’t say for sure if that’s exactly what he said, but it’s close enough and it has stuck with him. “I don’t think I was able to appreciate it as a senior in high school, and I’m not confident I could appreciate it while I was in college,” he says. “But looking back on my time in AYWS and my musical experiences now, I have a much greater appreciation for my time in the group. The type of music we were able to perform and the quality of the performances were amazing, sure. I have been a part of other ensembles that have played great literature, too. The thing that made AYWS so special was how much fun it was rehearsing and performing. Dr. Stewart helped shape that mentality, and it is something I will be forever grateful for.”

Stanford Thompson
Trumpet 2002-2005

Former AYWS member Stanford Thompson serves as the Founder and Executive Director for the El Sistema-inspired program, Play On, Philly! and the Chairman of El Sistema USA. He also serves on the boards of the Interlochen Center for the Arts, the Philadelphia chapter of the American Composers Forum, and as Chairman of The Curtis Institute of Music Alumni Council.
Stanford is a musician and educator who is passionate about using music for social action, and he regularly contributes to the communities of TED, the League of American Orchestras, and El Sistema-inspired initiatives around the world. Trained as a professional trumpeter, Stanford has performed and soloed with major orchestras around the world while actively performing chamber music and jazz. Stanford is a native of Atlanta, Ga., and holds degrees from the Curtis Institute of Music and the New England Conservatory’s Abreu Fellows Program.