Mike Ross

My day job is artistic/executive director of Madison Youth Choirs (MYC).

I came to this position after spending years in the Madison public school system, mostly at West High School. Before I joined MYC it was two organizations—Madison Boychoir and Madison Children’s Choir—and I’d worked regularly with both for many years. The two groups had recently merged and created a full-time position to head them. My wife and I had just had our first child and this job seemed like a better fit for our family because it offered flexibility that a school position didn’t.

I’m really excited about the culture we’ve created at MYC over the years: it’s very much about providing a safe, supportive environment where children are encouraged to be what we call “expert noticers.” Our goal isn’t just musical excellence; it’s about helping children be thoughtful and observant and using choral music as the lens through which they experience life. We value and appreciate the different skills and personalities our children bring to the music and work to facilitate open-mindedness and a willingness both to ask questions and to listen to one another.

My most memorable caffeine is the coffee I finally decided to try in my late 20s. My wife has always been a coffee drinker and would occasionally ask me if I’d like to try a cup. For years I said “No” and then one day for whatever reason I thought, “Why not?” It was a whole different experience and I’ve been enjoying it ever since.

My current caffeine of choice a cup of black coffee—though I can’t drink too much!

My favorite place for caffeine is Café Maya. It’s right by my office and both the staff and the coffee are great.

The person I’d love to share a cup of caffeine with is my great aunt Claire Rosenstein who died at the age of 90 and was my grandfather’s sister. He changed his name to “Ross” because he couldn’t find work as Rosenstein, but she never did.

Claire lived in New York City, across from MoMA near the corner of 55th and 5th Avenue in an art deco building from the ‘20s. This was the same building that Sheldon Harnick, the lyricist for Fiddler on the Roof, lived in.

She was a researcher and a writer—at one time she wrote for Steve Allen. Claire also worked at the League of Composers. She wasn’t a composer but she knew many famous composers including Aaron Copland and Leonard Bernstein—both of whom wrote her letters, which I’ve gotten to read.

Claire’s mother was Nettie Rosenstein who was a clothing designer from the 1920s to the 1950s. One of her most famous commissions was Mamie Eisenhower’s inaugural dress.

My aunt never talked much about the famous people she’d met—you had to know what to ask her about. She was a beloved aunt who became the matriarch of the family after my grandfather died and made sure we all got together for reunions. Claire also gave the best presents. She’d send you clues ahead of time about your present. One of my favorites was a pasta maker—and this was at a time when you didn’t find a pasta maker in many kitchens. I still have it to this day. I’d love to sit down and have one more conversation with her.

World problem that could be solved with the right amount of caffeine:  a lack of patience. We want everything to be quick and we’re not interested in things that require time. I’m not exactly sure what problem we’d solve if we were more patient, but it certainly couldn’t hurt to stop focusing on things that offer immediate gratification and focus on things that require patience and time.