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September 14, 2020

Shaping young lives with music

Meet Krystle Ford, Director of the ISO's Metropolitan Youth Orchestra Krystle Ford was born and raised in Indianapolis.

Krystle Ford was born and raised in Indianapolis. She graduated from Pike High School where she played in the orchestra under Mr. Ed Staubach, and she went on to attend Butler for her college studies, obtaining a degree in music and jazz studies. Shortly after graduating from Butler, Krystle moved to New York City where she stayed for almost a decade before returning to Indianapolis.

Krystle’s desire to leave Indiana came from her desire to be a performer. While in New York, she worked office jobs that included working in the Lincoln Center’s Human Resources department.  She also taught music lessons on the side, and after noticing children entering the building across the street with instruments on their backs, she eventually came to know that she was living across the street from the Noel Pointer Foundation (Mr. Pointer was a famous jazz musician who reigned during the 1960s and 70s). Krystle found her niche in teaching at the Noel Pointer Foundation, where she taught for 7 years, eventually becoming the Artistic Director.

Krystle credits a lot of her growth as a person and as a musician during her time spent at the Noel Pointer Foundation. She not only grew as a teacher, but she also learned how to run a program during her time there.

Prior to going to New York, Krystle had been strongly involved in the Metropolitan Youth Orchestra under the leadership of Betty Perry. She first became part of MYO in 1996, just one year after its inception, when she was in the 7th grade. Krystle came to know of MYO through her middle school science teacher who told Krystle that her daughter was giving music lessons. As it turned out, her daughter was the first violin teacher for MYO.

Krystle started taking lessons in the home of her science teacher’s daughter, but eventually switched to taking lessons at the Children’s Museum which was MYO’s home at that time. There were approximately 10 students in the orchestra, and they would practice wherever there was space in the museum, including under the polar bear exhibit! The first member of MYO, Heather Jones, plays her viola with the MYO parent group to this day.

During those early years, MYO would rehearse every week and play all over at different locations. Krystle recalls Betty Perry always raising money and applying for grants. She would also have the students attend formal dinners with dignitaries, teaching them how to speak to adults and advocate for themselves.

The program grew substantially, and younger students started to be included.  They were also starting to include students who had no previous experience in playing an instrument. Betty even altered a child’s violin who had cerebral palsy in order for her to play with the group.

MYO used to play Jazz n Jam concerts, where local artists would come in and play with the MYO. Families would bring food into the museum and MYO would play in the main entrance with the audience overlooking them from the balcony. To this day, MYO still plays with local artists under the guise of Pops concerts.

Krystle has many fond memories of her time spent as a student in MYO, including solo recitals. This was big for Krystle, as she was shy and not a “people person.”  MYO forced her to have to face fears and to be amongst adults and peers. She credits where she is today to her experiences with MYO as a child. When she was in high school, Krystle started to sub for teachers and would be given opportunities to “gig,” including playing a wedding at the house of former Pacers coach Isiah Thomas.

By the time Krystle was 14, she was teaching younger children. These students were only a few years younger than Krystle herself.  They would spend the entire day at the museum practicing, teaching, eating, and playing music. To this day, she sustains relationships with some of her former students. As an MYO student, Krystle was also given the opportunity to conduct the orchestra.  Betty even taught her how to mark up scores and how to present herself at the podium. Betty would also allow her to arrange music that would be played at performances.

Krystle feels that her relationship with Betty Perry was extremely valuable. Krystle used to babysit Betty’s grandchildren and go to her house to learn how to cook. When Krystle returned to Indy in 2015, Betty came by to visit and they still cooked dinner together. Betty’s strong beliefs in peer mentoring is something that Krystle continues in today’s MYO program.

Under Krystle’s leadership today, MYO is doing its best to adapt to the pandemic.  Krystle continues to mentor the MYO students, teaching them to be flexible, resilient, and to persevere regardless. They are having to change procedures due to Covid 19, but they do not want to stop the music. Krystle wants for MYO students to continue to have music in their community. MYO is its own little village, as well as a support system for both students and parents.

In the future, Krystle hopes for MYO to acquire their own space. Regardless of the

accommodations that others have provided, there are always challenges in not having their own space. It would ideal to have a lounge for parents and a facility that housed practice rooms and pianos. She would also like to possibly have winds, brass, and percussion added to the MYO, rather than it be just all strings.  She hopes that someday she can expand the program and improve wrap around services (food, transportation, counseling) to continue to cater to the whole child and offer more scholarships.

Krystle feels that MYO finding its home with the ISO was a game changer. This partnership not only exposes the students to concerts at Hilbert Circle Theatre, but also other programming provided by the Learning Community. This past year, the Marketing department started an initiative that provided MYO students free tickets to Classical performances. A connection such as this could potentially help to change the perception of classical music. The ISO’s Development department has also contributed to the stability of the program.

MYO has the ability to change the faces of classical music. MYO invites families from all different races and social-economical backgrounds and normalizes making music as a family. Krystle feels that the partnership is vital to both the ISO and MYO.