ASO Sympatico is a music education program underwritten by the Alexandria Symphony Orchestra and provided in partnership with the Alexandria City Public Schools. The inspiration for Sympatico was born out of the ASO’s commitment to education, the youth of Alexandria, and social change. In 2012, ASO staff and trustees began thinking about the best way to give back to the community of Alexandria City, while contributing to the city’s deep appreciation of the arts. After learning about numerous models for music education programs in public schools, the ASO concluded that establishing an El Sistema-inspired program would best accomplish its mission.
El Sistema originated as a music education initiative in Venezuela, in which students receive high-quality music instruction at no cost to them, with the goal of social change. Today, there are El Sistema programs in 55 countries, and more than 100 El Sistema programs active in the United States. Each of the programs, including Sympatico, are guided by similar core principles: equitable access to students regardless of income, intense and high-quality music instruction, the use of an ensemble as the main learning environment, community and family engagement, and of course, social change.
The ASO decided to test drive the concept of El Sistema in Alexandria City Public Schools. In 2013, two week-long music composition workshops were held at John Adams Elementary School (JAES), engaging students, teachers, and parents. These workshops brought guest musicians from around the world to the students at JAES, and culminated in students composing new music for bucket band, as well as for strings and Orff instruments. The composition produced during the second workshop was premiered on stage with the ASO in a Spring 2014 concert. The initial composition workshops helped to officially launch Sympatico, and have now become a staple and highlight of Sympatico’s yearly curriculum.
Since Sympatico’s official launch in 2014, the program has grown to include six unique ensembles at John Adams (The Percussion Experience, XyloKids, The Mallet Machine, Cantamos, The Fiddle Factory and Horns a Plenty) with more than 130 students in grades K-5. In September 2019, the program expanded into Patrick Henry K-8 offering two ensembles: a Chorus/Orff group and a strings/winds/percussion ensemble. Ensembles meet Monday through Friday, either before or after school. Sympatico students continually demonstrate better school attendance, more cooperation skills, greater perseverance, and stronger confidence. Sympatico continues to work with a mission of providing students with opportunities to experience success in themselves and with others in their ensembles, their school, and their community.
Today, Sympatico participates in more than 20 performances per year, both in school and in Alexandria City. Past performances include special appearances at the George Washington Masonic Memorial, the Torpedo Factory Arts Center, Alexandria City’s First Thursday festivals, the Alexandria City Council Inauguration, and the National Teachers of the Year celebrations. Sympatico ensembles have also performed alongside various performing groups and soloists, including the Alexandria Choral Society, the Virginia Bronze, National Symphony Orchestra violinist Marissa Regni, and Washington Performing Arts soprano Karin Paludan. Sympatico was the recipient of a 2016 Mayoral proclamation in recognition of its contributions and service to the youth of Alexandria City.
ASO Sympatico Instructors
Kyle Tilman (Program Director/Mallet Machine) is in his ninth year teaching general music at the elementary level, and his fourth at John Adams Elementary School in Alexandria City. He has previously taught in Fairfax County and Albemarle County. Born and raised in Falls Church, Virginia, Kyle is excited to be back in the Northern Virginia area teaching music. He began playing trombone in the second grade, played all the way through his years as a student in Fairfax County, and continues to play today. He earned his Bachelor of Music Education from LSU in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. At LSU, Kyle participated in numerous ensembles including their Wind Ensemble, Tiger Marching Band, and Trombone Choir. Kyle has completed his first level of Orff Schulwerk, a method of teaching that includes music, movement, drama, and speech. Orff Schulwerk is an engaging way for students to learn not only about music, but about being creative, being able to work with others, and being able to problem solve.
Fred Montgomery (Strings/Winds/Percussion) hails from Flint Michigan. He performed with various entertainment shows before enlisting in the Army where he was an instrumentalist with the Continental Army Band. Fred served as the Musical Director of the Show Band and a Staff Arranger for the unit. Fred attended Old Dominion University as well as Norfolk State University where he earned a Bachelor of Science Degree in Public School Music. Fred graduated as a Summa Cum Laude honor student. After college, Fred became a professional musician and performed with many national recording artists. He is now on his twenty seventh year of teaching music in Alexandria City Public schools.
Cindy Gossman (Cantamos) has been singing in Alexandria since 2007 and teaching music in the city since 2012. An alumnus of the music program at Northern Virginia Community College, Cindy has led a distinguished local career as a music educator, choral singer, sacred soloist, and folk musician. She is the founder and director of the children’s choir at Blessed Sacrament and assistant director of the Alexandria Kinderchoir. Some of her fondest memories of public school include her time in band, chorus, and in school musical productions, and she is delighted to share her passion for music and the gift of tuneful singing with the children of Sympatico.
Patrick Horner (Percussion Experience/Horns a Plenty) is currently in his third year of teaching elementary band in Alexandria City Public Schools. Patrick was born and raised in Alexandria, VA and feels grateful to be able to teach in the school system that helped him pursue his passion. He began playing percussion in 4th grade and continues to play in different capacities to this day. Patrick earned his Bachelor’s of Music Education from George Mason University and participated in many different ensembles while there. Patrick looks forward to sharing his passion for music with every student that enters his classroom.
Nicholas Ro (XyloKids) has been on the music team at John Adams since August 2017. Prior to joining the John Adams family, he completed undergraduate and graduate courses at Christopher Newport University in Newport News, Virginia. He holds Bachelor’s Degrees in Instrumental Music Education and Saxophone Performance, and a Master of Arts in Teaching. A passionate musician and educator, Mr. Ro teaches general music classes and the John Adams Orchestra program. He believes every student has a voice and they should be allowed to express that voice in whatever way they choose.
Originally from Orlando, Florida, Abigail Weber (Fiddle Factory) grew up playing the violin from a young age. She participated in private lessons and orchestra throughout her entire elementary, middle, and high school careers. She earned her undergraduate degree in Elementary and Special Education from Grove City College in Grove City, PA. During her college career, the arts remained an important focus as she participated in both the Chamber and Symphonic orchestras all four years, through which she was provided with many great opportunities including performing with the Pittsburgh Symphony. After graduating in 2016, she moved to Virginia where she began her teaching career at John Adams Elementary School in Alexandria, Virginia.
David Evans (Chorus/Orff) was born and raised in northern India, where he attended Woodstock School, an international boarding school in the Himalayas. He has a Bachelor’s Degree in French Horn Performance from Nyack College, where he studied with David Wakefield in New York City. Mr. Evans received a Master of Liturgical Music from The Benjamin T. Rome School of Music at The Catholic University of America, with a concentration on Choral Conducting. He was a pupil of Jeanette Wells. He earned his certification in Orff Schulwerk from George Mason University. He has taught in Alexandria City Public Schools since 1998 and at Patrick Henry since 2000 and has also directed church choirs for over three decades, and is a composer and arranger of choral music. Mr. Evans has sung with the Washington Men’s Camerata for 29 years. He is married to Beth Evans, also an ACPS music teacher, and has three daughters.