Symphony musician mentors orchestra students through citywide program

As orchestra students shuffle in to class, a woman is already awaiting them, sitting in the back near the violins and violas. Memphis Symphony violinist Marisa Polesky observes the interactions among the orchestra students. Polesky is a fellow for the Memphis Music Initiative (MMI), a program that pairs professional musicians with middle and high school bands and orchestras.

The program started about four years ago and now reaches 48 schools in the greater Memphis area. As an instructor, Polesky’s job involves pulling out struggling students for more one-on-one help, providing challenging music for students with more advanced technique and offering morale boosting mentorship to all.

Although Spartan orchestra teacher Dr. Andrew Palmer is also a member of the Memphis Symphony, his primary instrument is the bass. With Polesky’s expertise, violin students can receive criticism from someone who is extremely familiar with their instrument.

“She can work with the violinists on a professional level, having played most of this music before,” Palmer said.

The service doesn’t stop with the violins, however. All orchestra students benefit from the lessons and techniques she teaches. Cellist Khalifa Clark (9) can vouch for the musical and moral advice of Polesky, as she has been working with her through MMI since attending White Station Middle School.

“She’s really just opened up my understanding of the musical world,” Clark said.

With her expert touch and positive attitude, Polesky is an asset to the Spartan strings department. Like many teachers, she emphasizes how much she learns from the students she works with.

“The students are teaching me so much more than if I wasn’t with them,” Polesky said. “That’s amazing.”

Although she prepares students for major auditions and concerts, she prefers the little moments more than standing ovations.

“You never get that close to human beings in the real world,” Polesky said. “It’s rare. It’s rare that you are privileged to have the trust of a teenager.”


Emlyn Polatty
During a section rehearsal, Polesky gives orchestra students insight on the technical and musical aspects of the pieces they’re playing. Memphis Music Initiative fellows help students with everything from strengthening audition skills to dealing with the everyday struggles of being a student musician.