Cellist Kim Souther is the new director of the Preparatory Music Program at Eastern Mennonite University. (Courtesy photo)

Cellist and music educator is new director of EMU’s Shenandoah Valley Preparatory Music Program

Kim Souther, nationally acclaimed cellist, touring artist, and educator, returns to the Shenandoah Valley as new administrative director for the Shenandoah Valley Preparatory Music Program at Eastern Mennonite University. 

The Prep Music Program encompasses instrumental music instruction, Musikgarten, Shenandoah Valley Youth Symphony, and Harrisonburg City School Strings Program.

Souther will also teach a world music course and a course in music education. A graduate of Shenandoah University and James Madison University, she fills the administrative director position which had been open since September 2018.

Souther’s skills and experience show incredible range, from teaching choir and African drumming to middle and high school students to performing alongside the likes of Trans-siberian Orchestra and Sarah Jarosz. She’s also earned media attention for pushing the boundaries of cello performance beyond its classic roots, for example, into bluegrass improvisation.

Watch her perform “Orma”:

“What is special about Kim is that she has a perfect mix of traditional musical training and innovative impulse,” said Professor David Berry, chair of the music department. “Not every cellist is just as at home in classical concertos and improvising bluegrass and rock music! Her ability to work both inside and outside of the box will bring an exciting new energy to the music department and preparatory program.”

Souther loves helping students achieve their potential, and she knows that it starts with the student-teacher relationship.

“There is nothing that compares to watching a student figure things out and push through the difficult parts of their education, whether it be technical on an instrument or understanding key concepts of education and applying them,” she said. “I love walking through another musician’s journey as a support, a cheerleader, and an educator.”

One genre cannot contain her. “I love that one weekend I am playing classical, the next rock, the next bluegrass and folk.  It keeps it interesting and it keeps me fulfilled musically,” Souther said.

Souther met Yo Yo Ma while playing with the Silk Road ensemble (Courtesy photo).

One of Souther’s most formative experiences – “truly life-changing, she says – was playing in the Global Musician Workshop program.

“There is nothing like breaking down all of the barriers between countries by playing music together,” she said. “I spent time creating music with musicians from Iran, Pakistan, Israel, Spain, France, Brazil, England, Mexico, and so many more. I learned about their culture and the role music plays in it. I swapped folk and bluegrass tunes and played their instruments.”

While playing with the Silk Road ensemble, she also met legendary cellist Yo Yo Ma.

“He took time to sit down with me, gave me advice I use to this day, told me he believed in what I was doing, and inspired me to dream big.  He could have dismissed me immediately. I mean, c’mon, he’s Yo Yo Ma! But he chose to invest. That was the biggest takeaway that I’ve ever received,” Souther said. “No matter how well you do in life, stay humble and invest in the next generation the way you hope someone would invest in you.”

Watch Souther perform with Sarah Jarosz and other Global Musician Workshop instrumentalists.

Souther was previously the choral director and music teacher in the Sevastopol school district in Sturgeon Bay, Wis. She was a cellist in the Fox Valley Symphony Orchestra in Appleton, Wis., the Weidner Philharmonic at University of Wisconsin – Green Bay, and several other groups. 

Souther has directed various orchestras, choirs, studios, and music venues, and is a member of the American String Teachers Association, National Association for Music Education, Bay Area Music Teachers, and American Society of Composers and Performers.