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50 Years of Alumni: Jennifer Fink Hellman

College(s)/University attended
St. Olaf College

What years were you in GTCYS?
1991-1994 (graduated in ’94)

What skills or lessons did you learn in GTCYS that you still use today?
In GTCYS, I learned how to intensely focus, be persistent, and work really hard for the benefit of the team. My experience taught me so much about excellence: What it looks like, how much effort and attention to detail it takes to achieve it, and why it’s worth striving for. GTCYS challenged me. As a piccolo player, my mistakes were obvious to the whole orchestra (and especially Dr. Jones!). But I learned the concept of resiliency, which was doing the hard work in between rehearsals and then mustering up the courage to get out there and try to do it better the next time.

Why do you think GTCYS is important for students now?
With so many different activities, social media feeds, and digital content competing for our attention and headspace, the ability to set aside dedicated time to focus on creating something really special, surrounded by other people who share a love of music, is important and unique. There are all kinds of studies about the link between brain development and music. I believe that science. I also think it’s good for our souls.

How does music still play a part in your life?
I’ve been busy passing down the GTCYS experience to the next generation. I have a son who just finished seven years in GTCYS and another who was in GTCYS for two years. I’ve loved going to their rehearsals and concerts. It’s been so cool to watch them be part of the same experience that was so important to me almost 30 years ago!

What is your favorite composer or piece of music?
I have two. Finlandia by Jean Sibelius is one of my all-time favorites. If I’m remembering correctly, we performed it on the GTCYS Malaysia tour in ’94 (or was it during a St. Olaf Orchestra tour? I welcome notes from my old orchie friends to set the record straight!). And Gustav Holst’s Jupiter. I’m getting emotional just thinking about it – is there anything better than hearing it performed by hundreds of young musicians in Orchestra Hall at the conclusion of GTCYS Spring Festival?!

What do you hope to see from GTCYS in the next 50 years?
The consistency in the quality of the GTCYS experience is remarkable and it’s only gotten stronger over the past decade. I think experiences like GTCYS are needed now more than ever. GTCYS is doing a great job expanding access to musical education to more people. That’s exciting, and I hope it continues.

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