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“Now that I am expecting my first little one, I recognize the value that musical education added to my upbringing,” says Dana Elrod.

The mom-to-be believes the discipline required to hone a musical talent can be applied to every facet of one’s life. As a media manager for The Home Depot, she recognizes how her earlier musical experiences shaped her personal development, including helping her excel in her career.

“AYWS taught me that there are always going to be fierce competitors in any undertaking, but by engaging in healthy competition and finding ways to surround myself with the best and brightest individuals in my field, I can continue to develop my skills,” she says.  

Dana believes the AYWS also taught her a tremendous amount about commitment and passion. “It wasn’t always easy to muster up the energy to rehearse on a weeknight after a long day at school, but knowing that I was part of a larger team gave me the motivation to stick with it,” she says.

Even though Dana doesn’t have much time to pick up her flute these days, she is an avid classical music listener and has the utmost respect for the musicians who have persevered to create such beautiful art. She also remains connected to the AYWS and donates to the organization because she wants to help keep the ensemble alive and thriving.

“AYWS challenges young musicians to stretch their abilities and collaborate with other talented musical peers to create phenomenal music,”

she explains. “School music programs typically feature a range of abilities, but by participating in the AYWS, musicians can surround themselves with outstanding performers and a world-class director to further develop their skills. There is no better environment for young musicians in the metro Atlanta area to learn and grow than under Dr. Stewart’s expert direction.”

And the benefits of AYWS even extend beyond the rehearsals. “I fondly remember hanging out with fellow AYWS musicians before and after rehearsals, as well as en route to concerts and off-site activities,” she says. “We always had so much fun together and it was nice to build strong friendships outside of my high school network.” 

Years after completing her tenure in the ensemble, Dana continues to appreciate the uniqueness of AYWS and also the importance of music as a whole.

“Music has the power to evoke so many different emotions from the listener and/or creator,” she says. “For musical performers and enthusiasts alike, there is so much joy to be gained by consuming music. "I'm so grateful that my parents and musical instructors, such as Dr. Stewart, encouraged and supported my musical pursuits."