September 3, 2019
The Conductor and Music Director of the Saint Joseph Symphony will step down next spring at the end of his eleventh season.
Rico McNeela announced on Friday that the 2019-2020 season will be his last with the symphony and also his final school year teaching at Missouri Western State University. McNeela says he made the announcement now to give the symphony and the university as much time as possible to find a replacement. For decades the university and orchestra have shared the talents of the symphony’s conductor.
McNeela took over directing the Saint Joseph Symphony in 2009. Symphony President Barry Birr praised McNeela’s leadership both on and off stage. “Under Rico’s tireless pursuit of excellence the performance quality of the orchestra has improved every year. And he leaves the symphony’s finances in better shape than he found them,” Birr said. He also praised McNeela’s commitment to the community. “Rico not only worked in Saint Joseph, he lived here and loved it.”
McNeela developed close connections between Missouri Western and the community through students and the faculty who performed alongside the professional musicians in the symphony. In addition, he encouraged collaboration between the community and the orchestra. High school choirs from Central, Benton, Lafayette, and Bishop LeBlond have been featured with the Symphony, along with the New Generation Singers, choirs from Word of Life and First Presbyterian Church, and members of the Saint Joseph Community Chorus.
One of McNeela’s most impactful initiatives has been the Instrumental Infusion Program. He brought together Missouri Western, the Saint Joseph School District, and the Saint Joseph Symphony to introduce about 900 5th grade students every year to a variety of musical instruments. During the two-day program the children try out all the instruments they will be able to choose from in the fall of their 6th grade year, when bands and orchestras begin in the public schools.
McNeela says over the last nine years Instrumental Infusion has greatly increased interest in instrumental music in the schools. “Orchestras are now active and vibrant in all three of the St. Joseph public high schools. This had not been the case for over 50 years before the Instrumental Infusion program began,” McNeela said.
“Making the decision to leave has not been easy,” McNeela said, “but I do firmly believe that it is time for me to step aside and make room for someone new, someone with a new perspective and fresh energy, who will dive in and bring their talent and experience to bear.”
Symphony officials said they look forward to collaborating with Missouri Western in a nationwide search for McNeela’s replacement.