Linda Weise is a classically trained musician who grew up in Buffalo, N.Y., and graduated from Oberlin Conservatory in Ohio and The Juilliard School in New York City, with degrees in piano and vocal performance. She earned her living on Wall Street for a few years before taking a job with the Richard Tucker Foundation, a nonprofit organization for opera singers. Weise discovered Colorado while attending the Aspen Music Festival and moved to Colorado Springs. In 1994, she founded the Colorado Springs Conservatory.
Question: What is the business of the Colorado Springs Conservatory?
Answer: Our business is nurturing young people to be the best they can be in the performing arts. Consequently, because of our mission, which also includes community arts advocacy, our students become incredibly creative citizens as well. We have theater and music programs for ages 3 to 19. The programming is progressive, so that if a child turns to us in the 10th grade and says he wants to go to the Manhattan School of Music to study classical violin, or NYU to study musical theater, or Michigan to study pre-med, then he will have a certain skill set and tool set that will not only allow him to gain entrance, but to maintain entrance at that school.
Q: How do you help a kid into a program that is not in the arts fields?
A: At any given time we have about 40 percent of our students that want to study something outside of the arts. What this place does is it gives them an ecosystem and a kind of culture of like-minded kids. It gives them a creative discipline and also engages them so it really does feed their souls. And it's no secret that the sciences and music go hand in hand. Also, our programs are pretty rigorous. Our students usually come here four days a week, are still doing their homework, and are probably in a rehearsal for something else. So we try to allow the kids to understand that you can do all of that, as long as you are really intentional with your time, what you are doing and when you are doing it. So we teach them work ethic and time management as well.
A lot of our students' goals and aspirations outside of the arts fields are inspired by our community partnerships. If we do an event at the humane society, and our kids become involved in creating a performance for, say a gala, they become aware what it takes to run a humane society. Out of that experience they may say they want to become a veterinarian, but they play a great piano, or compose, or whatever it is that feeds their soul.
Q: What is the importance of feeding the soul?
A: I think one of the greatest tragedies of what's happening in society today is that children don't have the opportunity to continue to express themselves. And I'm not talking about getting a tattoo or putting a gauge in their ear. I'm talking about understanding what they're feeling and how they're feeling, and allowing that to manifest itself whether in music, writing or visual arts. For instance, if a boy comes in here with some digital music on his phone that he has written, and we say "that's excellent," suddenly he's sitting up taller, immediately, and suddenly he's interacting or teaching his friends.
Q: What are some other unique outcomes of your programs at the conservatory?
A: The conservatory has become notorious for producing young creative leaders, and it's because we're constantly putting them out there and supporting them. We had an extraordinary opportunity recently with the City for Champions. I took a group to the hearing with the State Economic Development Council to perform a song I wrote. I knew how terrified the kids were because they could feel the hostility when they walked in the room. I told them they had the opportunity to elevate the entire conversation with their performance. The young man that led the song has been with us since he was 3 and he's now 17. I told him to start at the podium and then step away, knowing that it will take everybody off guard. Despite the tension, he stood his ground and worked the room so everyone heard the message. At the end of the song everyone stood and cheered, so the students transformed the cosmic energy of that room.
Q: Why is the City for Champions project important to you and your business?
A: I love this community and I feel like the City for Champions project would elevate the city to the next level it deserves to be. As far as the school goes, we have a lot at stake in the southwestern urban redevelopment effort. I would be silly if I wasn't part of the conversation because we are literally located across the street,
Edited for space and clarity.