By: Stephanie DeChambeau, STL Symphony
In the early 1990s, the St. Louis Symphony and the Monsanto Fund collaboratively developed the IN UNISON® Program – a partnership of the STL Symphony with St. Louis-area African-American churches. Inaugurated in 1992 with five churches, IN UNISON now serves 40 primarily African-American churches in St. Louis City, St. Louis County, and Metro East. The Monsanto Fund has exclusively funded the program every year since its inception.
IN UNISON was a groundbreaking initiative in the industry, bringing an orchestra into the everyday lives of a community which historically has felt estranged from the art form. Through IN UNISON the STL Symphony seeks to provide musical resources and break down perceived barriers to the Symphony and Powell Hall through several avenues: 1) performances by Symphony musicians in member churches; 2) music education scholarships for church youth; and 3) encouraging church members’ attendance of STL Symphony concerts through significant ticket discounts. In 1994 the Program expanded with the creation of the St. Louis Symphony IN UNISON® Chorus, which comprises 120 singers primarily from the African-American community. The Chorus performs at least three programs annually as part of the Symphony’s season. The costs of the IN UNISON Chorus’s operations are also underwritten by the Monsanto Fund.
Throughout the nearly 20 years of the IN UNISON Program, the Monsanto Fund has remained actively engaged with the STL Symphony in monitoring the Program’s success. In 2002 the Fund paid for the retention of an outside evaluator to assess IN UNISON’s efficacy vis-à-vis its stated goals. Additionally, the Monsanto Fund president attends an annual lunch for winners of the IN UNISON college scholarships and has served as emcee for IN UNISON Chorus concerts.
IN UNISON has become a national model for meaningful community impact by an orchestra, having been profiled in the Wall Street Journal, CBS “Sunday Morning,” and NPR’s “All Things Considered.” In 2002 IN UNISON received the first MetLife Award for Excellence in Community Engagement from the League of American Orchestras, and later in the decade the Symphony received a mentorship award from the League to aid the Virginia Symphony in implementing a similar program.
The STL Symphony salutes the Monsanto Fund for its guidance, leadership, and generosity in supporting the IN UNISON Church Program and the St. Louis Symphony IN UNISON Chorus.