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Mieko Hatano

About Me

Building a new community out of disparate parts is what Di Sano is all about. For her, it’s also what a symphony orchestra is all about. She’s known that since she was in junior high in San Jose, Calif., playing French horn in the youth orchestra. “The orchestra is the perfect example of a well-functioning community. Everyone, even the last-stand violin, is there for a reason, doing something really important. You have a sense of belonging to something bigger and greater than you are.”

Could Augusta’s orchestra be a tool for building a sense of community? For reviving a downtown? For bridging the chasm between races and social classes? Could the new executive director of Symphony Orchestra Augusta be a juggler who shakes our gravity up?

Di Sano makes no such claims, but her eyes sparkle as she thinks about the possibilities, of the power of beauty to connect, inspire and renew. And the fact that so many within Augusta’s symphony community share that vision is one of the main things that attracted her to Augusta. They recognize that the arts for too long have been seen as the possession of the privileged. The symphony door stood as a barrier, intimidating those who weren’t sure how to dress or when to clap.

“Arts groups forgot they do this for the community,” Di Sano says. “They thought it was just about the art and, if you weren’t super knowledgeable or wealthy, then you weren’t important. Art was kept on a pedestal for the initiated.”

She believes the orchestra’s board deliberately took the symphony down from the pedestal when it hired musical director Shizuo Z. Kuwahara as artistic director four years ago. “Z is always approachable and engaging. He doesn’t ever give the impression he’s above anyone else. He makes music for the community, to educate the community, to bring beauty to the community. He wants the symphony to be inclusive, to engage people beyond just the Hill or Columbia County, to anyone who hasn’t been engaged. He and I and the board share the same beliefs.

“This is the future of the symphony: embracing the core of the past and bringing it into the 21st century by bringing it to the people.”
Di Sano comes by her convictions honestly. She dedicated the first part of her life to making music, studying French horn at the University of Michigan. After graduation she apprenticed herself to master teacher Louis Stout of the Chicago Symphony, taking two-hour lessons with him six days a week and practicing another four hours a day. Then she returned to L.A. for her master’s and doctorate at the University of Southern California.

That’s where her focus began to shift from making music to making music possible. While in grad school she became a youth mentor-artist
for the Young Musicians Foundation, going into elementary schools and teaching lots of instruments. “USC is in the ghetto, south central L.A. There are lots of immigrants, lots of poverty, no accessibility to much of anything.” Eventually she became lead mentor-artist coordinating the brass, then coordinating all the orchestral musicians in the schools. She kept moving up the ranks, now doing the budgets, then managing the youth orchestra, then directing education and outreach. When the artistic administrator of the Young Musicians Foundation left, Di Sano, who had just received her doctorate, was asked to take on that job. Now she was overseeing 14 programs, including mentors, pre-professional and professional orchestras, numerous competitions and scholarship programs.

One night, as she watched a Young Musicians production of the second act of Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde, she made a decision: “Knowing I had a hand in all the hard work of making that beautiful production possible, I couldn’t just go back and be a French horn player in the community. I needed to steward the community. I wanted to do it on a professional level. It was important to help these young musicians, yes, but with the state of orchestras, I thought it was more important to steward the art form itself and its viability into the future. I wanted to make its relevance known and felt to our youth. So I decided to leave doing this and figure out how to get to professional level.”

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