In Profile: Susan Messina to conduct Slidell Youth and Community Orchestra spring concert _lowres

Photo provided by Deborah Burst -- Susan Messina will conduct the Slidell Youth and Community Orchestra at 7 p.m. Sunday at Slidell High School. She is seen in her family music store, Christy Music in Slidell.

Inside her family’s music store, Christy Music, Susan Messina grabs a bright red guitar and stands in front of the camera. Although Messina doesn’t play the guitar, her entire life has been devoted to music.

She is a strong advocate of keeping music alive for all ages and is the conductor of the Slidell Youth and Community Orchestra, which will present its spring concert at 7 p.m. Sunday in the Slidell High School Auditorium, 1 Tiger Lane. The free concert will feature selections from “Fame,” Journey’s greatest hits, “Pirates of the Caribbean,” “The Barber of Seville” and “Thunder and Lightning Polka,” among others.

Messina performed occasionally with the orchestra for several years and became conductor in 2006 after Hurricane Katrina disrupted the group significantly. People of all ages and backgrounds belong to the orchestra. Ages range from 13 to 83, including students from schools across St. Tammany Parish and adults from various occupations.

The season begins the Tuesday after Labor Day and runs through May with practice once a week at Clearwood Junior High. This past year, they performed at various functions including four concerts and had several ensembles.

SYSO invites the public to attend free of charge but accepts donations so it may continue its musical endeavors throughout the community.

Messina teaches music at St. Margaret Mary School, where she leads the band, as well as at Christy. A graduate of Southeastern Louisiana University, she studied instrumental music and strings. She taught music in St. John the Baptist, Jefferson and St. Tammany parishes.

“I started in the fourth grade and began playing the clarinet, then piano and picked up trumpet in high school,” she said, adding that French horn got her a scholarship to college. “I began violin in college and performed in the orchestra throughout.”

In addition to the pure enjoyment of playing music, Messina believes music provides multiple benefits.

“It increases math and reading comprehension and multitasking,” she said. “It can also help in some types of brain injuries, especially recovery time and ability.”

Many times, the students get a little lagniappe education from their fellow orchestra members.

“The best part of having the kids in the orchestra is the mentoring they receive from the adults sitting next to them playing the same parts,” Messina said. “Where else can you get that?”

Messina and members of the board review music and select the orchestra compositions. Some new music is added every season, along with selections purchased by members of the orchestra.

Christy Music was opened in 1978, and the Messina family bought the business in 1985. Messina noted it is the oldest operating music store in St. Tammany. It sells and repairs musical instruments and carries sheet music.

A Slidell native, Messina laughs and says, “I was here when Old Town Slidell was young.”

One of Messina’s cherished memories is taking in Pete Fountain’s clarinet for repair.

“Since I played clarinet, it was a thrill to have Pete’s horn brought here for woodwind repair,” she said, adding they also worked with well-known local musicians such as Tommy Chadwick, Brian Stoltz and Gatemouth Brown.

“Brian Stoltz was just here getting guitars fixed by Carol Berzas, our guitar repairman, who is also a professional guitarist who plays extensively. Both Brian and Carol just finished playing at Jazz Fest.”

The orchestra depends on grants and donations for its funding and welcomes corporate sponsors as well.

“Personally, I would like to see more businesses get involved in sponsoring the orchestra,” she said. “Fortunately, we come under the authority of the continuing-education program of Clearwood School and the St. Tammany Parish School Board and can use the facilities with a minimum charge.”

Christy Music is at 831 Robert Blvd., Slidell, and its website is

Deborah Burst writes about people behind the scenes of organizations and events in St. Tammany Parish. To reach her, email