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Grad Spotlight: Park Center Senior High School orchestra teacher, Mary Gagnon, chosen for Minnesota Orchestra experience

Grad Spotlight: Park Center Senior High School orchestra teacher, Mary Gagnon, chosen for Minnesota Orchestra experience

Park Center Senior High School (PCSH) orchestra teacher Mary Gagnon recently spent time with the Minnesota Orchestra after being selected for a unique side-by-side rehearsal and performance experience for Minnesota music educators. 

Minnesota Orchestra performers on stage

Gagnon has been part of the orchestra world since she decided to try the cello as a fifth grade student at Park Brook Elementary School. She went on to attend Osseo Junior High and Osseo Senior High schools before continuing her musical endeavors at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She also took music lessons at the MacPhail Center for Music in Minneapolis throughout her school years, and this organization now partners with PCSH to provide additional opportunities for her students. 

“It’s fun to see how the circle keeps on circling,” she said of the partnership.

Gagnon said she decided on becoming a music teacher as a young teen because she wanted to be involved in music without the pressure of competing for jobs as a professional musician. 

“I’m not a competitive person,” Gagnon said. “To perform at the level of the Minnesota Orchestra, there could be 100 applicants for one position, and they are all capable.”

Today, Gagnon has nearly 100 students involved in the Park Center Senior High orchestra program, which she has taught for the past 18 years, and zero regrets about her decision to become a music educator. However, she was thrilled to recently be given the chance to participate in the side-by-side rehearsal and performance experience with the Minnesota Orchestra. 

Mary Gagnon onstage with her cello

Gagnon applied for the opportunity last fall and was among 55 Minnesota music educators to be selected, which she said amounted to about half of the applicants. The music educators got two rehearsals with the Minnesota Orchestra before performing at their shows April 27 and 28. She said several of her students came to see her perform, along with a couple of parents and former students.

Mary Gagnon posed with two students who attended her show

As a music director herself, Gagnon said she also found it fascinating and instructive just to watch the Minnesota Orchestra rehearse under director Thomas Sondergard, calling it an experience to see what he was listening for and the phrases he used to elicit the sound he wanted. 

“They were all so collaborative and so welcoming,” she said. “It was really impressive.”

Gagnon said that, as a Brooklyn Park kid herself, she loves being able to show her students that orchestra is something that is accessible to them. 

“I want to be able to show them that ‘you too can do this,’” she said. “This is accessible to you if you’re willing to work for it.”

The PCSH building leadership said they feel grateful for Gagnon’s steady hand at the helm of such a beloved school program. 

“Ms. Gagnon has been a staple in the PCSH music department for many years,” said PCSH Activities Coordinator Keelie Sorensen. “She is dedicated to her craft and her students.”

As just one example of Gagnon’s desire to go above and beyond for students and give them experiences beyond the classroom, Sorensen mentioned an upcoming trip to New York City this spring that Gagnon is coordinating for some of her orchestra members. 

“It just exemplifies her commitment to Park Center and the Osseo Area Schools district,” Sorensen said. 

a group of 55 Minnesota music educators posing for a photo on the stairs