2020 Bravura Award Winner
Joseph Mish

SEMYO is pleased to honor Joseph Mish, Director of Orchestras at Pine Island Schools, with the 2020 Bravura Award for Inspiring Student Excellence Through Music Education in Our Local Community. Mr. Mish will be honored with this annual award at SEMYO’s annual It’s Instrumental gala which will be held virtually this year on Friday, October 23 from 6:30-8 PM.

The event sponsored by First Alliance Credit Union will be broadcast online and feature pre-recorded performances and testimonials by current and former SEMYO students and Mr. Mish will except the Bravura Award during a pre-recorded speech.

Remarkably Joseph Mish has taught in Pine Island since 1986, his first and only public-school teaching position since graduating with a Bachelor of Music Education Degree from the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh. Even more remarkable is that Pine Island is the only small town in Southeastern Minnesota (outside of the Big 9 conference) that has an orchestra program, which has grown to include 150 students in grades 5-12. In addition to orchestra Mish has also taught some band lessons, Fundamentals of Music class, coached students for the Minnesota Music Listening contest (including two champions and a runners-up), and a started a thriving jazz strings extracurricular program that meets outside of the school day featuring two ensembles and approximately 50 students.  

Before starting his teaching career, Mr. Mish grew up in Dodgeville in Southwestern Wisconsin, which he describes as a small town with an excellent music program featuring marching bands, jazz ensemble, show choir, concert bands, choirs, and of course orchestra. It was here that Mish first learned to play double bass, his main instrument, and where his school teachers helped him find his passion and opportunities to discover orchestral music:  

 “I had great music teachers growing up: Richard Burris, Dan Roble and John Mingst always pushed our ensembles, we took great pride in our school program. I do think I discovered my passion for orchestra first at a string festival in high school when I got to play in a big orchestra with a professional conductor who also played solo viola with us—I can still remember the exuberance of that day more than 40 years later. My many years in the Symphony School of America (a great summer program that sadly no longer exists), playing in Dodgeville, La Crosse and later Superior, WI for six weeks in the summers—really gave me a taste of what it was like to be a professional musician.”

 Mish, who in addition to teaching performs double bass in the Rochester Symphony Orchestra, also states that he loves “playing and listening to live orchestras. I cry a little bit every time I hear a great orchestra whether it be Cleveland, Milwaukee, London, Chicago, or Minnesota. The sound of an orchestra always envelopes my soul.”

This passion and enthusiasm for music and orchestra has helped Mr. Mish to inspire his students to grow and excel in music, something that is obvious to his colleagues. Pine Island High School principal Michael Schiltz writes that “Joe’s clear passion for both music and lifelong learning are easily seen by his students and colleagues. He continues to be excited about learning new techniques and strategies, gathering research, and creating new music. He involves his students in those same processes through his classroom curriculum, and outside communication. We know students respond to great leaders, advisors and directors. It is clear that he has this fine skill to inspire students to love and grow in music and themselves.”

Mr. Mish’s bass student and SEMYO member Gloria Riba-Marmolejo also praises his patience and adaptability: “Mr. Mish has many strengths as a teacher, the most notable being his adaptability to my learning style. He’s always eager to clarify when I ask a question and he’s willing to go at whatever pace I need to go. He’s always very patient with me when I’m learning a new piece, or when I just don’t agree with him on something, he’s very open minded to my point of view.” She also credits Mr. Mish for teaching her important lessons that have not only helped her improve as a musician, but that she can apply to life. This includes being mindful of her actions and not being discouraged by focusing only on what is challenging and difficult. In her words: “The lesson here is that one should focus on the easy, or ‘relaxed’ parts of a piece, and then it won’t seem so impossible. We tend to see only the hardest part of a piece, passage, or phrase and think that playing the whole of it is inconceivable, when in reality it’s only that one part. Even apart from music, I’ve been applying this mindset, and it does help quite a bit. Overall, I would say Mr. Mish has taught me a lot that extends well past just music.”

When asked how he came to be in Pine Island after growing up and going to college in Wisconsin, Mish states that “I came here because it was a good job offer and I wanted to teach all the string instruments, not just bass and cello (my other offer was in a bigger district in SE Wisconsin). I’ve not regretted my choice; Pine Island is a great community and I’ve had wonderful music colleagues to work with over my years here.” Mish also serves on the board of the Rochester Symphony and his celebrating his 20th anniversary as co-music director of First Universalist Church in Rochester.

Previous recipients of the award in include Aaron Cole (Mayo Band), DeAnn Spencer (violin), Amanda Kaus (Century Band), and Lori Ringen (Friedell Middle School Orchestra).

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