IRIS ORCHESTRA COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENTIRIS Orchestra not only achieves excellence on the stage but also in the classroom. Becoming an IRIS sponsor supports stu-dents of all ages, from elementary school through college and beyond. From the classroom to the concert hall, IRIS' commu-nity engagement program seeks to engage, enlighten and amaze.

IRIS is dedicated to carrying music from the concert hall into the lives of young people in the Greater Memphis community. In the days leading up to each IRIS concert, musicians from the orchestra —and guest artists as well known as Midori, Dawn Upshaw and Branford Marsalis — meet and mentor students through numerous engagements including master classes at the Rudi E. Scheidt School of Music, presentations at schools throughout the city and county, and free admission for students to rehearsals and performances at the Germantown Performing Arts Centre.

More than a decade ago, the Greater Memphis community opened its doors to a new idea: bring the best musicians from around the country, world-renowned soloists, and one of the most dynamic young conductors in the country to Memphis for a season of outstanding concerts. Every season since, the community has taken IRIS into its hearts — and into its homes.

To give back to the community that has warmly embraced it for over a decade, IRIS has created and sustained a wide-reaching Community Engagement program.

“IRIS workshops and mentoring at the Stax Music Academy and Soulsville Charter School have captured the hearts of our students and faculty.”

Interim CEO
Soulsville Foundation


The Introduction program provides presentations for 2nd – 5th grade classrooms that introduce students to classical music and the extraordinary musicians of IRIS Orchestra.

Geared towards the younger student demographic, the Introduction program centers on:

School Visits
IRIS Orchestra musicians expose our youngest audiences to the fundamentals. IRIS musicians (As soloists, duos, trios, quartets and mixed ensembles) demonstrate their instruments, help students develop their listening skills by focusing on specific sections of music, and encourage their interest in taking up the study of a musical instrument. (Overall, students with high levels of arts participation outperform arts-poor students by virtually every measure.)

IRIS musicians support teachers' ongoing instruction in a range of core subject areas.


The Connections program complements existing music‒education efforts in Memphis city, county, and private schools. IRIS Orchestra musicians work collaboratively with classroom teachers, finding connections between the music curriculum and the general curriculum, working with other subject areas including art, English, history, and math. The intention is not to create programs for teachers but rather to work with teachers to understand what IRIS can bring to the students to further support the work currently being done by the schools.

The Connections program centers on:

IRIS partners with school teachers to create individual programs that support both the school and the curriculum.

IRIS crosses boundaries to make connections with music and other academic subjects such as history, English, and art to create innovative projects.


The Exploration program involves sending IRIS musicians to schools multiple times over the course of the school year, to per-form for and teach students using a structured approach that is interactive, educational, and explorative.

Geared towards students of all ages, the Exploration program centers on:

Long-Term Relationships
Bringing the same musicians into the classroom multiple times a year to build relationships and become familiar faces for the students.

Programmed Lesson Plans
Presenting a global concept to students so that each presentation builds from the one previous.

“I observed my students becoming more excited over the course of the year, due to the opportunity of hearing, speaking with, and receiving teaching from these top professionals in their field. The opportunities provided by IRIS really made the students feel special. With IRIS’s outreach performances, the students feel inspired and motivated. They have less fear and more excitement about playing.”

Orchestra Director
Houston High School


IRIS musicians, guest artists, and Principal Conductor and Artistic Director Michael Stern are committed to giving back to the young musicians they so closely relate to. Through masterclasses, IRIS offers invaluable time, information, and experiences for young and aspiring musicians. And for those musicians who may not intend to make music their way of life, mentoring still offers a view of life and careers outside of Memphis by professional musicians who come from all over the country. IRIS mentoring goes beyond the scope of solely teaching music. Mentoring exposes students to many of life's inevitable lessons including team work, problem solving, dedication, hard work, practicing and methodology. Experiencing mentoring programs with IRIS musicians inspire and motivate young people in a way that will be with them for a lifetime.

Geared towards young musicians and college students, the Mentoring program centers on:

Master Classes
Allow students to absorb pertinent technical, historical, and contextual information through interaction between the young musician and IRIS ensemble.

Relationship Building
Building actual relationships with students by offering sessions at respective schools multiple times per year.


“I have seen a deeper appreciation for classical music among the students as a result of our relationship with IRIS Orchestra.”

Artistic Director
Stax Academy


The Discovery program is designed to bring students and adults into the concert hall for rehearsals, performances, and other activities. Students and adults are exposed to the "behind the scenes" efforts it takes to put on a successful and top quality orchestral performance by attending live rehearsals and lectures.

The Discovery program is geared towards students and adults of all ages and centers on:

Side-by-Side Rehearsals
IRIS musicians and the Memphis Youth Symphony Orchestra rehearse "side-by-side." These rehearsals offer MYSO musicians the chance to sit inside a first-rate professional ensemble. The students sit directly next to their counterpart in the professional ensemble.

Family Concerts
Designed to engage the interest of children of all ages, these concerts are open to public, private, and home school groups. Family concerts seek to forge meaningful and enduring relationships with families from the Greater Memphis community in order to increase understanding and enjoyment of classical music with families and their children.

Friday Live Lunch
Produced in conjunction with WKNO-FM 91.1, this live broadcast allows the listener to become a part of the musical process as IRIS Artistic Director, Michael Stern, rehearses the orchestra for the upcoming concert.

Pre-Concert Conversations
The conversations take place at 7 pm prior to each IRIS concert in the GPAC Black Box and are free to concert ticket holders. Points of discussion include the evening's program and composers.

Wednesday Night Concert Preview
Taught by Jamey Lamar, these classes provide a relaxed and interesting way to learn about the music and composers of the upcoming IRIS performance. Each preview takes place on the Wednesday night prior to each concert in the GPAC Green Room.


The Family Saturday Series forges meaningful and enduring relationships with families from the Greater Memphis community. Designed to engage the interest of children of all ages, these concerts are open to public, private, and home-schooled students and their families. The series is made up of two concerts that take place on the Saturday afternoon of each concert week. The afternoon consists of an interactive, engaging concert with IRIS Orchestra and our guest artist followed by a hands-on instru-ment petting zoo.

The Discovery program is geared towards students and adults of all ages and centers on:

Michael Stern & IRIS Orchestra
Date: Saturday, October 13, 2012

Jeffery Kahane
Date: Saturday, May 04, 2013


“I am simply amazed when I observe the expressions on students’ faces when members of IRIS Symphony are performing. The partnership between Shelby County Schools and IRIS Orchestra has resulted in our high school students leaving the performances inspired to perform at a higher level of excellence.”

Arts Administrator
Shelby County Schools

  • Alcy Elementary School
  • Arlington High School
  • Bellevue Middle School
  • Collierville Middle School
  • Collierville High School
  • Colonial Middle School
  • Craigmont Middle School
  • Florence City School
  • Houston High School
  • Hutchison School
  • Lausanne Collegiate School
  • Memphis Home Education
  • North Point Middle School
  • Richland Elementary School
  • Ridgeway High School
  • Rivercrest Elementary School
  • Schilling Farms Middle School
  • Soulsville Charter School
  • St. George’s School
  • St. Mary’s School
  • STAX Music Academy
  • White Station Middle School