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Cherry Creek Elevation elementary students learn about iconic conductor during virtual author visit

Deekshitha Sakthivel  In One Ear and Out the Other: Antonia Brico and Her Amazingly Beautiful Life  “I was inspired by Antonia Brico. I want to stand up like Antonia Brico.”

Deekshitha Sakthivel is one of nearly 1,000 fourth- and fifth-grade students who had a unique opportunity to learn about the life and legacy of Maestra Antonia Brico, the longtime conductor of the Denver Philharmonic Orchestra. The students, who attend the Cherry Creek Elevation K-5 Online program, got to take part in one of two virtual visits with violinist and author Diane Worthey. She studied under Brico and recently published a children’s book about the iconic conductor.

In One Ear and Out the Other: Antonia Brico and Her Amazingly Beautiful Life is Worthey’s first book. It tells the story of Brico’s lifelong fight to gain recognition as a conductor in an era when men dominated classical music. The first woman to guest-conduct the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, Brico never secured a permanent conducting job with a major symphony, but her contributions paved the way for many women conductors to follow. She is considered a true visionary in the long fight for equal opportunities for women.

“This virtual author visit was an amazing opportunity for our fourth and fifth graders to learn about a significant figure in Denver’s musical history and the role of a conductor in orchestral music,” said Dr. Paul Cribari, a music teacher at Elevation. “But it was also a lesson in the movement for equal rights that continues even today.”

Worthey, who grew up in Denver, was a high school student when she had the chance to perform with the Brico Symphony. At the time, she didn’t fully understand or appreciate Brico’s talent and tenacity. But later, as a music education student at the University of Wyoming, she played with the UW Symphony Orchestra during a concert with folk singer Judy Collins. Collins, who studied piano with Brico, explained what an important conductor Brico was and described how she broke barriers for women.

Worthey went on to pursue a career as a professional violinst and a violin and viola teacher. Three years ago, she began thinking about writing a book about an important woman in classical music. Her husband suggested she write about Antonia Brico.

“Oh my goodness,” Worthey recalled excitedly. “From the moment I started looking into her life, I became obsessed with her story. Antonia Brico was the first woman to conduct the New York Philharmonic. She guest-conducted all over the world - the LA Philharmonic, the Berlin Philharmonic.”

Worthey learned that Brico was the first woman and the first American to graduate from a prestigious conducting school in Berlin. But despite being a guest conductor of renowned orchestras around the world, Brico was never hired as a permanent conductor of a major orchestra.

“She had all the credentials of her male counterparts, but all along the way she was told a woman couldn’t do it,” Worthey said. “She had to fight her whole life for everything. There are women on the podium today, because of Antonia Brico.”

Virtual author visit During the virtual visits with Worthey, the students practiced conducting, something they initially learned from their music teacher, Dr. Cribari.

The students also got to listen to Worthey read her book aloud.

“The book was amazing,” said fifth-grader Sakthivel. “I would recommend it. The book inspired me to stand up for my rights and for what I believe in.”

Worthey is excited that students like Sakthivel enjoyed learning about Maestra Brico, and she hopes Brico’s story helps them overcome challenges they may face in their lives.

“I would like them to take away the idea that grit and perseverance apply to all areas of your life,” Worthey said. “Certainly if you want to be a musician, but also if you want to be an author. I would never have gotten this book out to young people if I hadn’t followed Antonia Brico as a role model of grit and perseverance.”

Sakthivel definitely got that message. She wants to be a doctor when she grows up, and help people and save lives. She knows she will have to demonstrate grit and perseverance to realize her goals.  

“It doesn’t matter what path in life you take, those are two things you’re going to need,” Worthey confirmed.

Posted 11/30/2020.