GTCYS alum Paul Wolfram reflects on the impact of musical opportunities

Paul Wolfram Headshot 2023

GTCYS staff recently reconnected with alum Paul Wolfram, cello, ‘01, who, at the time of this conversation, was the assistant director of development for The Perlman Music Program in New York, New York. Paul credits his time in GTCYS as inspiration for continuing in music and helping create opportunities for those who need it most. Read on to find out how his GTCYS experience led him down his current career path! 

Having recently arrived in St. Cloud, Paul Wolfram heard about GTCYS through his private teacher and joined the Junior Philharmonia North for the spring semester in 1997 as an eighth-grader. Following a short break from GTCYS, Paul returned during his junior year, after a visit to his high school by GTCYS’ artistic director, Paul Jan Zdunek. He had been studying cello privately and participating in high school choir and orchestra, as well as All-State Orchestra, but GTCYS offered the opportunity to play challenging repertoire and be around peers at his level who were just as excited about classical music throughout the year. In preparation for conservatory, he auditioned for Symphony his senior year, and was thrilled to secure a spot in Symphony, soon after learning of the forthcoming 2001 China Tour opportunity! Paul was grateful for GTCYS’ scholarship support that made his tour experience possible! 

Paul in his senior year of high school

Paul made his favorite GTCYS memories on the tour, he remembers learning works by Chinese composers and enjoying a side-by-side rehearsal with a Chinese orchestra. They also performed Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 5, which Symphony performed on the 2022 Italy Tour (Watch on YouTube). Traveling across China, the students marveled at the Great Wall, the Forbidden City, the Peking Opera, and saw the terracotta warriors exhibit as well as museums featuring traditional Chinese instruments. As a student without much travel experience, Paul says it was very educational and exposed him to the challenge of navigating a different culture, while representing his hometown and the orchestra.  

GTCYS validated Paul’s musical ability and his work ethic, with quality instruction from passionate conductors who encouraged students to achieve greatness. Paul carried his GTCYS memories with him as his career continued after graduation. He studied cello at Lawrence University and continued at University of Wisconsin-Madison, receiving a Master of Music in Cello Performance. Paul says, “I’m amazed at the wide range of career paths taken by GTCYS alumni. I went from GTCYS to conservatory and then graduate school, for music. After about 10 years of freelancing and teaching in New York City, I pivoted to development full-time with The Perlman Music Program. The students come from around the world and play violin, viola, or cello at truly the highest level. It’s very inspiring and encouraging to watch these future leaders find their artistic voice.” 

He shares, “The more years I spend working in fundraising the more I appreciate all the hard work behind the scenes that makes all these opportunities a reality, especially for those who need financial assistance to participate. Beyond the gift of playing great music at a high-level, GTCYS tours are life changing. I was grateful for the scholarship support that made it possible for me to participate. My first season with GTCYS was the 25th – and now it’s been over 50 years, it’s great to see GTCYS thrive.”  

Paul sees similarities between music and development every day: “running a benefit event is like putting on a recital, you get the same high that you have after a performance. Working with donors isn’t much different from working with conductors and peers—building relationships, learning about people, who they are and where they come from. You’re part of a team, just like in an orchestra— it takes more than one person to make it all happen.” Paul believes a key part of what students learn with GTCYS is the importance of doing things as a group. When students join something that’s bigger than themselves, they must be prepared, communicate, and keep pushing ahead because they don’t want to let anyone else down. It’s crucial to do their part so the whole group can thrive! 

Thank you, Paul, for sharing your GTCYS story with us and continuing to create opportunities for young people to pursue music! 

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