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From saxophone at East St. Louis High to bassoonist on the Powell stage

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Nov. 14, 2012 - Joseph Hendricks proves that the old adage about Carnegie Hall applies to Powell Hall as well: The best way to get there is to practice.

The 20-year-old bassoonist from East St. Louis took up the instrument in his sophomore year of high school.

At the time, he and his close friend De’Shaun King both played saxophone in the band. But King wanted to play other instruments as well.

“De’Shaun became interested in the oboe,” Hendricks recalled.

The band teacher told King that he could play oboe if he could convince someone to play the bassoon.

“He said play the bassoon and I’ll play the oboe, and now I am at UMSL playing the bassoon,” Hendricks said.

And where is King? “He plays flute at Duke,” Hendricks said. “He really is a jack of all trades. But me, I play the bassoon and the sax.”

Hendricks says that, when he first agreed, he knew nothing about the bassoon or classical music.

“Classical music came to me as I started playing it,” Hendricks said.

Today, in addition to majoring in bassoon at UMSL, he is the recipient of the Monsanto Foundation’s IN UNISON scholarship. But that is not all.

Hendricks is also about to make his debut. At 7 p.m. Friday, Nov. 16 at Powell Hall, Hendricks will take his place a member of the St. Louis Symphony’s Youth Orchestra.

This year marks the first time an IN UNISON scholarship recipient has been named to the symphony’s Youth Orchestra, said Jessica Ingraham, youth orchestra manager and secondary education programs coordinator.

Partnering with churches

Through IN UNISON, a program supported by a $160,000 grant from the Monsanto Fund, the symphony provides music-related resources to local churches, primarily African-American churches. In 1994, the collaboration resulted in the founding of the IN UNISON Chorus, made up of church members and others from the community. The chorus, led by Kevin McBeth, performs twice a year at Powell. This year, it will present A Gospel Christmas on Dec. 20 and Lift Every Voice on Feb. 22 in honor of Black History Month.

What began in 1992 as a small outreach program with five churches has grown significantly. Today, the program helps students by providing for year-long musical instruction and gives church members discounts so they can attend programs at Powell. In all, more than 20,000 people from more than 40 churches in the St. Louis area participate in the IN UNISON program.

With its expansion and growth, the program continues to foster music education through grants, to support younger students so they are able to attend music summer camps or have yearlong education and to provide scholarships to college music majors. Students like Hendricks.

The music scholarships are specifically for minority students pursing bachelor’s degrees in music or music education.

Supporting youth

The concert on Friday illustrates the benefits of the program, said Ingraham.

“It is so amazing when you see a 5-year-old sitting in the audience smiling, taking in the whole stage, the whole performance,” she said. “To have a full stage of wonderful role models and to present it all for free so that families can come and experience it — that is truly special.”

The choice of Hendricks for both a scholarship recipient and a member of the Youth Orchestra is fitting in Ingraham’s eyes.

“You cannot find a more worthy student,” she said. Joseph is hard working and talented. He has two jobs, and he goes to school.

A sophomore, Hendricks is also frugal and resourceful. When the strap for his instrument broke, he began using one of his belts.

His equipment may be somewhat makeshift, but his playing is not, Ingraham said.

She worked with him in a nine-piece orchestra for a musical. With each performance, she became more and more aware of Hendricks’ talent. And when she was asked to recommend a bassoon player, she suggested Hendricks.

“Joseph’s sound is memorable,” she said. “He has the ability to find that inner beauty — when he plays, he goes beyond the page. You can tell that he is making a connection with the music.”

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