Spotlight on youth symphonies

I’m not sure how or why the violin entered our lives. Lizabeth was just five or so years old, and we heard somewhere about a place called Arcadia Music Academy in Phoenix, which has several music teachers who offer private lessons.

By that time, she’d already been to numerous concerts presented by The Phoenix Symphony (which has a tremendous family series each season) and the Scottsdale Symphony Orchestra (we used to love spending 4th of July holidays at their concerts on the lawn at the Scottsdale Civic Center Mall).

It may have been a young classmate who played violin (his mom is a cellist with The Phoenix Symphony) who first inspired Lizabeth to try the instrument. Or maybe the times we’d taken her to an “instrument petting zoo” before a Phoenix Symphony concert—a free event sometimes held before certain shows, where musicians staggered throughout the lobby help young people try different instruments.

Lizabeth enjoyed trying strings—violin and cello. Her big sister, Jennifer, was more drawn to the brass—tuba and trumpet (she went on to play flute for many years though her school at the time had no orchestra). I played clarinet as a child but never did the youth orchestra thing. (I was more of the grab a guitar and write your own songs kind of a gal. Mercifully, perhaps, none of them have survived.)

Lizabeth might have auditioned for one of our local youth symphonies had she not been busy several nights each week with ballet classes that took up most of her evening. By the time Lizabeth was accomplished enough to join the highest level of orchestra in high school, she’d fallen in love with theater and learned, as we all do, that we can’t always have or do it all.

Letting go of violin was hard, but none of us ever regretted the investment of time and money that went into lessons and daily practice. The daily part is important, says music educator, writer, lyricist and composer Charlotte Brooks of Theatre Artists Studio in Scottsdale, because there’s just no way to be good at something without working at it. We do a disservice to our kids when we lead them to believe competence can be culled from desire alone, devoid of dedication and determination.

I’m grateful in some ways that Lizabeth had the opportunity to face a choice like this during her teens. We face these choices often as adults, and I’m always pleased when my kids get a chance to practice life skills like problem solving and assessing their values before flying from the nest. (They will fly one day, right?)

Jennifer’s best friend, for practically a lifetime, spent many years playing strings with the Phoenix Youth Symphony. We used to meet after Saturday lessons in Tempe so the girls could stroll along Mill Avenue enjoying the indie shops, street musicians and other local color (this was back in the day when Changing Hands Bookstore was still on this strip).

Though one is now at ASU and another at U of A, Jennifer and Brenna still love their together time in Tempe. Brenna no longer plays with the Phoenix Youth Symphony now that she’s in college, but we have many fine memories of attending concerts and seeing both Brenna and her brother Ian play. They both have oodles of raw talent and became truly exceptional through painstaking practice, lessons and playing with fellow musicians. (Having creative, devoted parents didn’t hurt…)

I don’t know that either will pursue a career in music, but their time with music has been meaningful nonetheless—so much so that I’ve invited Brenna to write a guest blog sharing her experiences with the Phoenix Youth Symphony (look for that tomorrow). Brenna and Jennifer have written for the magazine before—sometimes when limited space has prevented printing their work—and I always enjoy reading their perspectives.

The Phoenix Youth Symphony is comprised of four orchestras—the string orchestra, the symphonic winds, the symphonette orchestra and the youth symphony (the highest level)—along with a percussion ensemble. Members are selected through an audition process, which next takes place in Phoenix during April and May of 2010.

Selected musicians are expected to attend Wednesday evening rehearsals as well as other training opportunities, and should be members of their school band or orchestra if one is available. Additional prerequisites and requirements are detailed on the PYS website—as is other useful information, including links to various youth symphonies, summer camps, festivals, conservatories and competitions

The symphony’s performance schedule is also posted online, and includes a “Side-by-Side Concert” with The Phoenix Symphony on Sunday, Feb. 7th at 3 pm at Phoenix Symphony Hall. Tickets are free (open seating) and available at the concert (the lobby opens at 1 pm). This concert is an especially exciting introduction to orchestral music for children who are often most enraptured by performers close to them in age.

We’re fortunate to have more than one youth symphony in the Valley. The Metropolitan Youth Symphony has more than 300 members who rehearse with their groups weekly and perform at least four formal concerts per year. The MYS includes three string orchestras and one full symphonic orchestra.

It also features a fiddler’s group that left me awestruck when I first heard them perform at a community event many years ago. They weren’t just good, they were “whip out your checkbook and support these kids” good! (Never fear, Phoenix Youth Symphony, I’ve been inspired on more than one occasion to donate to you as well.)

Upcoming Metropolitan Youth Symphony performances are scheduled for Feb. 24th and April 27th (both at 7 pm) at the Mesa Arts Center (have I mentioned lately that their snack bar is far and away our favorite among performing arts venues?). This is such a kid-friendly venue—with plenty of space on the surrounding plaza for walking off the wiggles.

If you assume your child could never enjoy classical music, or fear perhaps that you’d be bored by it yourself, I have a resounding chorus of “I told you so” at the ready. Once you and your child experience other youth playing their hearts out—with remarkable finesse—you might just get hooked. I can think of worse habits…

–Lynn

Note: Read Brenna’s Wednesday post on her experiences with the Phoenix Youth Symphony for a glimpse into how music training and performance opportunities enrich the lives of  youth.

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