St. Louis Arts Awards
Amy Kaiser left New York for a St. Louis life of music
6 May, 2021
Director of the St. Louis Symphony Chorus since 1995, Amy Kaiser is one of the country’s leading choral directors. Her passion for music started at age three and by the age of 14, Kaiser taught herself Italian to play through the piano parts of Mozart operas and sing all the parts. At Smith College, she discovered choral music. With the women's movement in the early 1970s, the opportunity to conduct professional ensembles and make a living as a conductor became a possibility.
She shared, “I got such great experience as a college student that when I graduated at age 20, I knew I was a professional choral conductor at that time, and they gave me such confidence. This was in 1975 and there were very few women in professional music at that time.”
She moved to New York City and was able to get a few part-time jobs and piece together a living over the course of 17 years.
“When you're a freelancer, you always say yes. I would get a phone call from the New York Philharmonic, ‘Can you get us 100 men to sing as volunteers?’ And, I would say sure,” Kaiser recalled. “Bit by bit, I was ending up doing a lot of professional choral work in New York City and having the time of my life until I realized that this was unsustainable.”
Some of her roles in New York City included music director of the Dessoff Choirs and the Mannes Chamber Singers, professor at the Manhattan School of Music, guest conductor for the Metropolitan Opera Guild and longtime principal conductor of the 92d Street Y's school concert series.
Her search for a career that offered a sustainable living brought her to St. Louis. When she left New York, the New York Times featured her in the arts section with a title that read “Leaving a New York Life of Music”.
The article ended with, “Now that she is leaving…and other conductors are applying for her jobs, one applicant was so struck by the breadth of her activity that he exclaimed: "Oh, my God! She was everywhere, wasn't she?”
Her music career in St. Louis has been just as rich. She has conducted the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra (SLSO) in Handel’s “Messiah”, Schubert’s “Mass in E-flat”, Vivaldi’s “Gloria”, and sacred works by Haydn and Mozart, as well as Young People’s Concerts. She is a regular pre-concert speaker for the SLSO and presents popular classes for the Symphony Lecture Series and Opera Theatre of Saint Louis.
When asked what advice she would give herself 50 years ago she recalled during her time at Smith College when the chaplain asked her what she wanted to do 10 years from now. She said, “I just want to do the same thing but better.” That advice rings true years later after a career filled with incredible accomplishments.
“So my advice to my 50 years younger self would be that's your goal and it's a great goal. Keep with it because that is exactly what's going to happen. You're doing the right thing. You found the right niche for yourself. How miraculous is that? You are very lucky. Stay with it. It's just going to get better and better.”
Kaiser will retire at the end of the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra’s season, her 26th there, though the past year has been like no one expected. Fortunately for St. Louis she isn’t going anywhere. Her passion for music certainly isn’t coming to end as she takes tap classes and continues to increase her skills as a pianist.
She said, “I am on my way to becoming a third-class pianist, which is my goal. Then I will have the great pleasure of playing perhaps some chamber music with some of my retired friends from the St. Louis Symphony or working with singers or just playing piano music in my home.”
Amy Kaiser is being recognized at the 2021 St. Louis Arts Awards on Monday, May 24, 2021, for her significant impact on the St. Louis region’s arts community over the course of her career.
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