The student becomes the teacher

Paran Amirinazari leads Madison's classical music

Perhaps the only thing 33-year-old Paran Amirinazari hasn’t accomplished in her academic/professional career is the completion of her doctoral degree. That academic pursuit led her to Madison four years ago. But her focus since has been playing first violin with the Madison Symphony Orchestra and serving as concertmaster for the Middleton Community Orchestra as well as founder and artistic director of the Willy Street Chamber Players. She is also director of Madison Music Makers, an educational outreach program under the auspices of the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestra (renamed WYSO Music Makers).

Born and raised in Boston to nonmusical parents, Amirinazari developed a passion for the violin at the age of 8. It was a sacrifice for her parents to invest in an instrument and lessons, but they had some help from a program called Project STEP. It was an experience, she says, that continues to shape her life. “I’ve never forgotten how many people supported me in my early years,” she says. “There were lots of people spending extra time with me because they wanted me to succeed.”

After earning a bachelor of arts degree at the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston, she freelanced and taught for five years before moving to Reno, Nevada, to complete a master’s degree in two years. The move to Madison wasn’t obvious, but she quickly connected with a couple of old friends from Boston who lived here, and she enjoyed the performing opportunities she found. She expects to earn her doctorate in musical arts in violin this year.

Busy with two orchestras, a string quartet and some private students, Amirinazari also founded the Willy Street Chamber Players, which stemmed from an idea to create an informal concert series among friends. “I thought about the fact that most of the summer events are outdoors, and there is less ‘serious’ listening going on–and I had learned that students often learn more in the summer when their brains were relaxed,” she says. Three years later, the WSCP performs three well-attended events each July and last year played at several city festivals.

Now Amirinazari needs only to get that Ph.D.

Moving the Music MakersThe student becomes the teacher

Paran Amirinazari has come full circle to direct a program of more than 70 students in the WYSO Music Makers. She says many of them remind her of herself at their age: long on passion, short on opportunity.

The program, known as Madison Music Makers when it was founded in 2007, provides opportunities for children in underserved communities to study an instrument. Families are asked to contribute $40 per month but can pay what they can. Most of the currently enrolled students play violin, viola, piano or guitar.

Amirinazari’s involvement with MM began when she was asked to coach an honors ensemble of about a dozen violin students for the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestra’s 50th anniversary gala three years ago. Gradually she took on more students and worked closely with Bonnie Greene, then-director of MM. When circumstances led to WYSO’s acquisition of the MM program and Greene’s decision to leave as director, Amirinazari succeeded her.

Even with the ongoing commitments, it never occurred to her to say no. “When MM approached me to take over, I immediately thought ‘This is a great idea,’ ” Amirinazari says.

Greg Hettmansberger covers opera and classical music for