The impact of Dr. Clyde and Helen Wu shines like a beacon in the Detroit Symphony Orchestra’s story. Visionaries, with a heart for exposing youth to musical experiences, their passion aligned perfectly with the DSO's mission. Today, their vision remains a constant presence as we continue to build accessible, quality music education and training programs, welcoming students of all abilities and backgrounds to connect and build in impactful and transformative ways.
Under the Wu Family Academy for Learning and Engagement (WFA) banner, DSO facilities are a second home to hundreds of students who gather to connect, learn, and make music in the Jacob Bernard Pincus Music Education Center classrooms, and experience the magic of Orchestra Hall—performing live from a stage that echoes with a history of greatness.
What started with 50 kids and one ensemble in 1970 has blossomed into what we know today as the Civic Youth Ensembles (CYE)—an enriching training program encompassing 14 classical and jazz ensembles including: two full orchestras, four string ensembles, three wind ensembles, three jazz ensembles, the Dresner Foundation Allegro Ensemble (an introductory string program supported by the Dresner Foundation); and the Detroit Pistons Bucket Band, a percussion ensemble that teaches entry-level techniques in a unique and creative way.
“When we started with the DSO in the late 1990s, we established certain principles: reach young people and teach them about discipline, teach them teamwork, and a hope to engage them so that they will love art and music for the rest of their lives,” Dr. Clyde Wu expressed in a 2013 interview with TV producer/host Liz Aiken.
“Discipline is important because you can’t accomplish anything in life without it; teamwork, because if you goof, the whole orchestra will hear you, so you really have to learn to play with each other; and the love, when you are heavily investing your time and energy in the training, you will develop a love for it.”
Exposure to spaces like DSO’s Pincus Music Education Center and the Max M. and Marjorie S. Fisher Music Center, combined with opportunities to engage with instruments, creates enthusiasm for music-making and incorporating music and the arts into daily life.
This is the Wu’s gift and legacy.
The foundation of Clyde and Helen’s relationship was rooted in music: Dr. Clyde’s deep knowledge and appreciation for classical music, matched with Helen’s training as a gifted classical pianist. That passion is threaded throughout their family culture––across generations.
Their niece, June Wu, a generous supporter of the DSO’s Wu Family Academy, is a pediatric plastic surgeon in New York and an accomplished pianist who still gets together with friends from medical school to play chamber music.
Music didn’t start off as a love, but after attending Interlochen Arts Camp for one summer––an experience encouraged by her uncle Clyde––she understood how transformative music can be.
“I got there and saw how good everybody was, and I really got exposed to people who loved it, and I thought, ‘this is actually really cool.’ It was good to be in an environment where people have similar interest, love classical music, and want to do things with classical music. The greatest thing with this is that you train people to be lifelong lovers of music.”
For her aunt and uncle, June says, it was about wanting to do something that supported music education and helped to train the next generation––even if music was not the primary professional choice––they wanted to encourage people to keep music in their lives.
“ I remember going to the young people’s concert at the DSO on a Saturday morning, and it being a great way to learn about music and the symphony as a kid," says Nicholas Wu, grandson of Clyde and Helen. "Walking backstage with our grandparents and seeing how they interacted with everyone, learning about the musicians and their craft, to even being at home and having the unique experience of playing piano with my grandmother; it was very special and valuable. Music was always something that my grandparents wanted to foster in all of us and teach us. ”
You may recognize Nicholas from your radio or TV screen discussing news stories he has worked on as a congressional reporter for Politico. Before establishing his journalism career, Nicholas’s youth was spent as a clarinetist in DSO’s Civic Youth Ensembles and attending Interlochen with his younger sister, Maddie.
The exposure to a variety of musical styles, techniques, and playing alongside “highly skilled, and world-class musicians” are fond memories for him, specifically his experience with the wind ensemble.
“My wind instructor, Ken Thompkins (DSO Principal Trombone), who I keep in touch with, was very big on modern music and we played all sorts of interesting tone poems and modern pieces that I would have never had exposure to before,” he shares. “The appreciation for different kinds of beauty is something I think classical music—and genres beyond classical music—teaches you very well.”
The camaraderie is a special aspect as well. Nicholas recalls fond memories of rehearsing and discussing the craft of music with fellow students on weekend mornings, and at Interlochen. "I was an intermediate camper with a group of very like-minded people who were all interested in music and eager to learn."
Though he no longer plays the clarinet, he acknowledges the significance that his music education and training continue to play in his professional development.
“In my world as a reporter, I have to write things and then go out on radio or TV to talk about it to everyone. It’s so important to learn how to handle yourself in front of an audience, have stage presence, and put yourself out there; I’m a better person through all of it because of the music education I received. So much of it is discipline, critical thinking, camaraderie, and an appreciation of the arts, as my grandparents always talked about. It makes you a well-rounded person.”
Dr. Clyde and Helen Wu's lasting legacy champions access to music and music education for youth and beyond; and it started with their family.
Understanding the grounding qualities and the worlds that can be created through this art form is where beauty begins to blossom.
Maddie Wu, Nicholas’s sister, embodies her grandparents’ vision and belief in music as transformative and something all should engage with. She remembers the days of attending the young people’s concerts at the DSO, hearing classical music fill her grandparents’ house, and as her brother mentioned, fun piano lessons and duets alongside her grandmother. She credits her father, David, and grandparents for her love and passion for the arts.
“It was a lot of great exposure. They had so many records and CDs constantly playing, and my grandfather always talked about the combination of music and medicine in his life and what music education meant to him,” she shares. “I knew I wasn’t going to be a professional pianist, but something my grandparents were adamant about was how important art was going to be for my life and finding my own path to it; finding purpose in it, in my own way. I’m thankful for that.”
Music showed up for the current medical student throughout her undergraduate studies at Princeton University, where she declared music theater as her minor. The journey led her to various artistic paths, where she served as a music director, pianist, and producer with additional experience in arranging, orchestrating, and arts administration.
It was a time of exploration that turned into a fruitful dance with the arts, and imparted creative ways to engage with music, collaborate, and connect with people all over the world.
“I’m pursuing medicine now, but I feel, as my grandparents did, that you have to put instruments in students’ hands to have that holistic learning. There’s power to music and the arts and the way they connect people through diverse ways and mediums.”
Leading a creativity-driven life with music at its core is an eye-opening experience that can teach you more about yourself, others, and the world around you.
The Wu Impact
Dr. Clyde and Helen Wu married their passion for instilling discipline, teamwork, and the lifelong love of music in students with the DSO’s desire to grow and expand their music training program, and birthed a partnership that advocates for a deep understanding and appreciation of the arts for Detroit youth. With support, a sound vision, and intentionality, youth are empowered to have confidence in their creative decisions.
The Wu’s impact is seen in the lives led by their children, grandchildren, and nieces and nephews; it’s felt throughout the DSO’s Jacob Bernard Pincus Music Center, housed inside of the Wu Family Academy of Learning & Engagement, where you can see students in practice rooms learning technique and compositions; or taking a breather from rehearsals to hang out with friends and grab snacks while discussing music and other interests. And it’s witnessed in the array of careers and accomplishments past CYE students have established and achieved for themselves.
It is evident that when you provide access and deliver a memorable experience that inspires engagement, a palpable energy and transformational moment forms that speaks to the influence music has in shaping lives and character.
That’s the beauty of music.
That’s the beauty of the Wu family legacy.
The DSO extends deep gratitude to the Wu family for their continued support and generous stewardship.
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