JOY! founder recognized with award

By Melanie Savage - Staff Writer
Storrs - posted Tue., Nov. 8, 2011
Contributed
Jorgensen Director Rod Rock recently won a UConn Provost Award for Excellence in Public Engagement for the Jorgensen Outreach for Youth (JOY!) program. Courtesy photos. - Contributed Photo

When he was in high school, Rodney Rock received a scholarship to study music. “Without that support, I would not have been able to take lessons privately,” he said. “It certainly altered the course of my life.” Today, Rock serves as the director of Jorgensen Auditorium on the University of Connecticut’s Storrs campus. He took over as director in 1996, and soon began to look for a way to pay forward the opportunity given to him as a kid.

According to Rock, his predecessors at Jorgensen “had periodically provided tickets to families who couldn’t otherwise afford to attend performances,” he said. So giving to the surrounding community was already an established Jorgensen tradition. “We decided to formalize it a bit,” said Rock.

While previously letting people come to them, Rock and the Jorgensen staff began seeking out families with limited financial resources, who also had children interested in music. “We started to make a much more concerted effort to contact local social service agencies,” said Rock. At the same time, the staff reached out to corporations and private citizens for donations to fund the tickets. Jorgensen’s business manager dubbed the new program JOY!, for Jorgensen Outreach for Youth.

“On average, we provide 800 to 1,000 free tickets every year to students in eastern Connecticut,” said Rock. Families are identified through social service agencies and schools. The program allows aspiring musicians to see inspiring performances that their families could otherwise not afford.

JOY! also provides access to visiting performers to students in surrounding public schools. “We haven’t done as much of that as we’d like, as far as bringing artists out into schools,” said Rock. The logistics behind such endeavors can be daunting. A recent effort to provide Windham High School with a visit by members of the Vienna Symphony Orchestra, for example, fell apart when the two groups were unable to coordinate their schedules. “But we keep trying,” said Rock.

The newest development under the JOY! banner is the conservatory program, which has grown quickly since it was first started in 2009. “The first year, we wanted to provide six scholarships,” said Rock. “We ended up having five students audition.” This year, 34 students auditioned for a total of 15 spots. Middle school- and high school-aged students are provided with private lessons, master classes and lessons in music theory. “Probably the biggest thing that incoming college students lack is music theory,” said Rock, “so this helps to prepare them to go on in their studies.”

Former JOY! students have already gone on to study music at the college level. But whether they aspire to careers in music or some other discipline, the program provides invaluable experience. “Studying a musical instrument has lots and lots of benefits for students, cognitively, socially and developmentally,” said Rock. And formal recitals, held twice a year at Jorgensen, provide students with a maturing, confidence-building opportunity. “It’s great preparation for these kids,” said Rock.

The JOY! program is funded entirely by donations. “None of the money comes from the state,” said Rock. Donors, said Rock, gain tremendous satisfaction in watching the development of program participants. “It’s a wonderful community-building tool,” he said. “The donors, who are supporters of the arts, love having the opportunity to help. They get a lot of joy from seeing these students perform and develop.”

Rock was recently recognized for his contributions to JOY! by a Provost’s Award for Excellence in Public Engagement, bestowed at Jorgensen on Nov. 1. But he hands credit right back to the program’s donors and to the Jorgensen staff. “Every member of the staff here at Jorgensen has a hand in making this program a success,” said Rock. “It’s just a great program. I’m so proud of these students.”

JOY! Conservatory concerts are open to the public. The next one is scheduled for Nov. 30 at 7 p.m. For more information about the JOY! program, go to the Jorgensen website at www.jorgensen.uconn.edu and click on “education.” Or contact Rock at rodney.rock@uconn.edu or at 860-486-1983.


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