Alexandria Hoffman recalls Civic Fellowship as time of immense growth

Flutist Alexandria Hoffman was a Civic Orchestra of Chicago Fellow from 2018 to 2021.

Courtesy of subject

From 2018 to 2021, Chicago native Alexandria Hoffman spent three seasons in the Civic Orchestra of Chicago, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s premier training program for young professional musicians. During these years, Hoffman also participated in the Civic Fellowship Program, which provides select Civic musicians with additional experience in artistic planning, music education, social justice and project management. “The Civic Fellowship challenged me both musically and professionally, and I grew immensely as a result,” Hoffman shares in the following interview. “Through Civic, I came into my own confidence as a musician, and I was prepared to be a leader in music and in the world in general.”

What is your background with music and your instrument?

I started playing flute in fourth grade. And through high school, I was a member of the Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestras and took lessons at the Merit School of Music. I attended Northwestern University for my undergraduate degree in flute performance and music education, where I also participated in the marching band, and had so many friends and wonderful musical experiences. I then received my master's degree in flute performance at the Cleveland Institute of Music.

I am currently wrapping up my time as a fellow of the New World Symphony, and I am the founder and executive director of Sound Mind, a nonprofit focused on the mental health of musicians that leads workshops across the country.

What led you to audition for the Civic Orchestra?

I grew up in Chicago and always looked up to the musicians in the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. The CSO is my hometown orchestra, and attending concerts made me realize that playing in an orchestra of this caliber would be a dream come true.

When I was at Northwestern, I had a number of friends in Civic, and whenever I went to concerts, I always wanted to join. It looked amazing — especially performing in Symphony Center and having the opportunity to work with CSO musicians.

I joined Civic as a Fellow in the 2018/2019 Season and was a member through 2020/21.

How did being a Civic Orchestra member and Fellow help you professionally and personally? Are there career milestones you would not have reached without your time in Civic?

The Civic Fellowship challenged me both musically and professionally, and I grew immensely as a result. Through Civic, I came into my own confidence as a musician, and I was prepared to be a leader in music and in the world in general. The unparalleled musical training of the program provided me with an opportunity to sub with the CSO, as well as join the New World Symphony.

Because of Civic and its independent project grants, I started Sound Mind. Sound Mind wouldn't exist in its current form without Civic. As Civic Fellows, we were given the freedom, flexibility and education to pursue what we want to pursue in the music world. The process of applying for these grants and starting something from nothing has given me and so many Fellows the skills needed to achieve all types of goals.

What do you think sets the Civic apart from other orchestras?

There is truly no other program like Civic because of its relationship to the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Association and CSO musicians. The CSOA is incredibly invested in young musicians and creating a community of artists, which is a very special experience.

The Civic Orchestra and the Civic Orchestra Fellows are truly immersed in the city of Chicago in such a deep way that you don’t see in every big city in America.  This is a huge advantage to young musicians, and the city of Chicago sets this program apart, due to its huge arts scene and opportunities to freelance often.

What were some of your favorite moments, events or projects while a Civic Fellow? How did those experiences prepare you professionally?

Yo-Yo Ma's Day of Action in 2019 was one of the best days of my life. I had the opportunity to perform with him twice throughout the day and spend the entire day with him, which was an experience I’ll never forget. Yo-Yo is the best example of how music and service intertwine, and how musicians can be a vessel for positive change.

I was also deeply affected by the work we did with Notes for Peace and Purpose Over Pain. We worked with parents who have lost children to gun violence to create original songs of tribute. The songs that have been created over the years live with you for the rest of your life. As Civic musicians, this work challenged us and taught us a new skillset, and Notes for Peace is one of the most meaningful projects as a musician (and human) I've ever participated in. While we can’t fix the issue of gun violence as individuals, we were amazingly honored and privileged to help in the healing process for so many families.

The Bach Marathon, a day when Civic musicians travel to 13 different locations across Chicagoland to perform Bach’s six Brandenburg Concertos for students, senior citizens and the public, was another one of my favorite projects. This annual December event was a fun way to get into the city, work with kids and perform for the community, all while playing and celebrating the music of Bach. I loved that time of year and the organizations we've worked with.

How have you kept involved with Civic since you were a member?

I’ve been very fortunate that the administration at Civic and the CSOA have always welcomed me “home” with open arms. Even in the times I haven't lived in Chicago, I have been a big supporter from afar and am always interested in what the Fellows are doing musically and in their independent projects.

I've stayed in touch and often still get lunch with members of the League, one of the CSOA's volunteer organizations, and so many of them have been incredibly involved and care about me and my musical career.

Last year, I attended the Civic Fellows’ 10th Anniversary Celebration and reunion concert, which was an amazing culmination of the Fellowship.

Personally, I have so many close, lifelong friends from my time in Civic, and am so grateful to have so many like-minded musicians in my life.

Why should donors support the Civic Orchestra?

Supporting the Civic Orchestra is investing in the musical community of Chicago. When you support the Civic Orchestra, you are not just supporting Chicago — you are supporting orchestras everywhere. Civic alumni go on to do amazing things, whether it's music or something entirely different. Investing in human beings is always a good thing and helps make the world a better place, and your gift has the power to make this change.

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