Violist and School of Music alumnus Andrew Francois ’11 officially began his music career at the age of 10. His journey started at 5 years old when his parents enrolled him and his brother in piano lessons, which he disliked. He still knew he had a passion for music and became interested in the violin after his older brother took interest in the cello in his school orchestra.

Francois devoted his life to his music from that point forward. His dedication, his practice, and his attention to technique paid off this year as he is now a Los Angeles Philharmonic Resident Fellow. So what does that mean? This fellowship is a training program to prepare musicians to compete for, and win, positions in major professional orchestras, and only five musicians are appointed each year according to the LA Philharmonic Fellows website. Francois will play with the orchestra for 20-25 weeks of their 45-week season. “This fellowship is centered around the idea that the current American orchestra is not diverse enough for the 21st century,” Francois stated. “This fellowship, and others like it, strive to educate and make opportunities available to musicians from historically underrepresented communities like female, African American, Latino, and Native American to name a few.” The rigorous program requires a pre-screening video audition, at least one, but up to three letters of recommendation, an essay, and a dedication to music as well as diversity. In return, the musicians go through a life-changing experience as they build networks nationally and internationally while learning through their music and community programs.

Francois loves his music. He is passionate and works extremely hard, but actually, he struggled to share it. “My biggest challenge has been not to beat myself up or talk down to myself, I am very hard on myself, but it took a lot of people to convince me to understand I am good enough to be in the music world. They convinced me that I have gifts to share, and I do. ”

He shared his gift and love of music at Illinois State playing in the orchestra. From there on he had opportunities while on campus to play with faculty, with some of the best students in the School of Music, and through traveling abroad with various programs. “Playing in orchestra was one of the things that helped me the most. Playing under Dr. Glenn Block was an eye-opening experience into how much time, love and dedication it took to become a professional musician,” he stated. As a student, Francois also taught for the ISU String Project and had the opportunity to play with the Peoria Symphony. After graduation, he continued to excel at his instrument, receiving his master’s from the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music and performing in the United States and Europe with groups such as the Verbier Festival Orchestra, the Louisville Orchestra, and the New World Symphony Orchestra.

Many of his accomplishments came with thanks to the School of Music and its faculty. “I owe so much to ISU and the people that helped me grow, especially Dr. Sarah Gentry, Dr. Katherine Lewis, and Dr. Glenn Block,” he said. “They were my foundation and inspiration.”

Francois’ advice to students pursuing any passion would be to “have a clear goal and work toward it with everything you have. Allow people smarter and wiser to guide you, but follow the inner voice that drives you.”

His inner voice is driving him to his ultimate goal to win a tenured viola position in a major orchestra. The LA Philharmonic Fellowship is making that goal now far more obtainable.