Tag Archives: Phoenix Youth Symphony

Sounds of the season — symphony style

Unless you’ve got enough children to comprise brass, woodwind, string and percussion sections — or a toddler well trained in banging pots and pans to musical effect — you’ll want to enjoy other sources of symphonic sound.

So here’s a sampling of seasonal concerts featuring local symphonies, along with several related books you might enjoy reading with your children…

The Chandler Symphony Orchestra presents a holiday fundraising concert Sun, Dec 5, in Sun Lakes.

I’m told that “a local four year old YouTube star Jonathan E. Okseniuk will be performing with [them] on violin that day as well as conducting in March for [their] ‘Youthful Genius’ concert.” Here’s a link to his YouTube performance:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0REJ-lCGiKU.

The Tempe Symphony Orchestra performs a holiday concert Mon, Dec 6, in Tempe.

Symphony of the Southwest presents a holiday concert Sat, Dec 11, in Mesa.

Phoenix Youth Symphony presents a holiday fundraiser Fri, Dec 3, at the Phoenician Resort in Scottsdale.

Phoenix Allegro presents a holiday luncheon and silent auction to benefit the Phoenix Symphony Mon, Dec 13, at the Arizona Biltmore in Phoenix.

The Phoenix Symphony presents several holiday concerts in December, including “Home for the Holidays” featuring the ASU Choral Union, conducted by Robert Moody, Dec 3-5 at Symphony Hall in Phoenix.

Other Phoenix Symphony holiday offerings include a “Candlelight Messiah” with the Phoenix Symphony Baroque Ensemble, a “Handel’s Messiah Sing-A-Long” with the Phoenix Symphony Chorus, and a “Handel’s Messiah” with soloists.

A “Target Family Special Event Concert” titled “Deck the Halls” takes place Sat, Dec 4, at 2:30pm. The Phoenix Symphony describes it as “a magical stageshow designed for children of all ages, led by Conductor Bob Moody and featuring members of the Phoenix Boys Choir.”

“Symphony Hall will be transformed into a magical wonderland with music from your favorite holiday tunes. Get your photo taken with Santa, and enjoy the pre-show party in the lobby including entertainment, arts and craft activities and refreshments.”

I often took my children to symphony performances when they were younger, and each went on to study both piano and another instrument — flute, saxophone or violin.

Lizabeth studied and performed violin from kindergarten through high school. To this day, it’s left her more appreciative than most of the time and talent it takes to create music and other forms of art. 

Although she’s chosen a career in theater rather than classical music, the gifts of music study will last her a lifetime — and help her support the arts as an audience member.

Some perform. Some compose. Some teach. Some listen. But it takes all of us to keep the music going.

— Lynn

Note: Books about music and other forms of art make great holiday gifts, so check gift shops at performing arts venues and museums (including the Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix) for unique holiday gift selections.

Coming up: Celebrating Christmas — choral style, From story to stage, Celebrating the arts while ringing in the New Year

Event alert: “An Evening with Joshua Bell & Jeremy Denk to Benefit MIM” takes place Fri, Nov 26, at 7:30pm. Their recital will be followed by a ‘meet the artist’ opportunity — plus an elegant dessert and cocktail reception. Tickets: $200. Learn more at www.themim.org.



Family-friendly symphony

I had a lovely Sunday afternoon, enjoying the semi-staged, narrative-style performance of “The Music Man” — the first venture in a multi-year collaboration of the Phoenix Symphony and Phoenix Theatre.

Think charming sets with lattice-laced blue and yellow porchfronts sporting charming screen doors. A barbershop quartet and gentlemen donning newsboy caps.

Think  tall white pillars topped with spring bouquets of gentle pastel tones. Ladies wearing crisp white blouses buttoned staunchly with cameos and adorned with large hats boasting fantastic feathers.

French horn meets mouse

We’ve been enjoying Phoenix Symphony concerts as a family since about the time our oldest could spell the word “symphony” — and they never disappoint.

Once we saw them perform while an artist created a giant original painting on stage. Another time they performed cartoon-theme music with cartoons rolling on a huge screen behind the musicians. The Phoenix Symphony has always excelled at family-friendly music and performance art.

I’m pleased to present a sneak peek at the 2010/2011 “Target Family Series” — followed by a look at pre-concert activities for children.

Enchanted Tales: Brundibar and Peter & the Wolf. Oct 10 at 2:30pm. Special guest: Phoenix Boys Choir. Both folk tales follow friends who come together in the face of those who bully or menace others. And “Peter & the Wolf,” with various animals represented by different instruments, is the perfect introduction to orchestral music.

"Peter & the Wolf" meets piano lessons

Hocus Pocus Pops. Oct 30 at 2:30pm. An afternoon of “tricks, treats and suspenseful music” including a murder mystery for children — Lemony Snickett’s “The Composer is Dead” — which also teaches children about instruments of the orchestra. Kids and grown-ups are encouraged to come in costume.

Orchestra from Planet X. Jan 29, 2011. Two “devious but somewhat bumbling space creatures” attempt to take over the concert as the symphony plays music ranging from “Symphony X” by Don Gillis to John Williams’ “Flying Theme” from the movie “E.T.”

Cirque de la Symphonie. Feb 26, 2011 at 2:30pm. “Acrobats, contortionists, jugglers and strongmen” perform as the symphony plays both popular music and classical masterpieces.

The Rhythms of the Earth. March 19, 2001 at 2:30pm. A concert dedicated to “our amazing planet” from desert to jungle — to include music from the “Grand Canyon Suite,” “Songs the Plants Taught Us” and more. Children leave with seeds to plant as the community prepares to celebrate Earth Day 2011.

Opera meets "Wild Things"

Pre-concert activities start in the Symphony Hall foyer an hour before each of the above concerts — and feature activities ranging from storytime and arts & crafts to a musical instrument “petting zoo” where children can try out various instruments. The cello and horns were always big hits with my kiddos — who went on to play flute, piano, saxophone and violin between them.

I’ve also chaperoned many an elementary school field trip to the symphony, but hadn’t realized until I visited their website recently that they also offer programs that send musicians to perform at schools. 

I was struck today by just how magical the venue can be for children–with a perfect blend of formality that makes the occasion feel special and a more casual ambiance that still feels warm and welcoming.

We’ve also experienced the music and musings of individual symphony members, who chat and perform periodically in venues like bookstores where children can see and hear just a small number of instruments up close (and for free).

Phoenix Symphony meets Ib Andersen's "The Nutcracker"

Lizabeth still recalls many other experiences with the Phoenix Symphony — seeing friends play in the “side by side” concert coupling the Phoenix Symphony with the Phoenix Youth Symphony, hearing Tchaikovsky’s music as Ballet Arizona performs “The Nutcracker” each year.

My favorite Phoenix Symphony memories are of lazy afternoons or evenings when Lizabeth and I would go to hear musical greats like Itzhak Perlman. At first I fretted when she only made it through half of a concert before falling asleep on my shoulder.

But then I realized it was a rare and special gift — Lizabeth drifting off to slumber amidst the tender sounds of the symphony, and me feeling the warmth of her cheek nuzzled against my neck.

There’s really nothing quite like it.


Note: Intermissions at Symphony Hall have a charm all their own — with impressive chandeliers and other interesting design elements to explore, a gift boutique with diverse offerings (my favorites this time around were miniature animals playing various instruments) and a choice of snack bars (including one with over-the-moon cheesecake and chocolate-dipped strawberries).

Coming up: My “first love” in theater is rekindled

Ballet Arizona photo by Rosalie O’Connor

Young Sounds of Arizona

Ever wonder how a high school student who plays a musical instrument transitions to playing in the college setting and/or playing professionally? For some, it comes through training and performance opportunities afforded by professional musicians sharing their skills and support.

Young Sounds of Arizona was established in 1971 by Professional Musicians of Arizona, local 586, of the American Federation of Musicians “to provide further training, performance opportunities and artistic growth” for young Valley musicians. The program serves youth ages 13-19, according to musical director Barb Catlin.

Young Sounds includes two big bands and one jazz combo. Middle and high school students are selected through an audition process. Once accepted, they enjoy “weekly professional instruction and music clinics with masters of the genre.”

The young musicians “learn about music as a profession from professional musicians.” Catlin, who’s served as musical director of Young Sounds for eight years, proudly shares that the group is “the first and oldest of its kind.”

Why jazz, I wondered as we spoke. At the time Young Sounds formed, says Catlin, there were no similar training and performance opportunities for young people within this genre. Today, she says, “they are a fantastic nationally recognized group of young musicians who represent Arizona at the highest level.”

As much as my children enjoyed hearing the Phoenix Symphony perform when they were young (we often attended their family-friendly selections), I don’t think anything ever replaces the excitement a child or teen feels when they hear a peer playing an instrument—especially when they play with real skill and genuine sensitivity.

Young Sounds will perform at one of my favorite Valley venues—the ASU Kerr Cultural Center in Scottsdale—both this month and next. They perform at Kerr at 3pm on Feb. 21st and at 10am on March 18th (I’m told tickets are very reasonably priced).

My children have performed many a piano recital there, so we know firsthand of its warm and welcoming nature. It’s a small space that feels both casual and elegant—with seating that allows the audience to see and hear the music up close.

Young Sounds alumni will perform at Symphony Hall in Phoenix on April 29th at 7:30pm. Catlin expects that about 20 to 30 musicians, some local but many from other parts of the country, will form the special jazz combo that performs that evening. The concert will feature works commissioned for Young Sounds through the years.

Catlin notes that auditions for the upcoming season will likely occur in June (the dates are yet to be determined). I asked about trends she’s seen over the course of her time with Young Sounds. Sadly, she notes that fewer and fewer young musicians are auditioning as arts funding for music education at the elementary school level continues to decline.

It got me wondering (and worried). If kids don’t get involved in music during elementary school, where will our middle and high school students develop an interest in music? If our graduates aren’t playing music, how will college and conservatory programs continue to thrive?

And in the absence of robust higher education opportunities in music, can we really expect to continue enjoying an abundance of high quality musical performances in our communities? It’s a “trickle up” effect—and it’s not good.

So what’s the answer? Make time to attend live music events with your family—not just the concerts of the latest teen sensations, but the concerts featuring teens from our own towns.

Check with your local schools, community colleges and universities for opportunities to see and hear student musicians, and faculty members, perform.

Sign up for e-alerts from organizations featuring young musical performers (Phoenix Youth Symphony, Metropolitan Youth Symphony, Phoenix Girls Chorus, Phoenix Boys Chorus, Phoenix Children’s Chorus and such), so you’ll be the first to learn about upcoming concerts and special events.

Take your kids to hear grown-up musicians—Symphony of the Southwest–as well as many others, too. You can bet they won’t like it if they never try it.

When you consider after-school activities, think not only of athletics, but also of the arts. There’s no reason your child can’t play a mean sax and a mean game of soccer!

“Young musicians deserve our support,” says Catlin. “They’re not just great on their instruments. They’re amazing human beings.” Catlin describes the 40 youth of Young Sounds as “fun, helpful, kind, humble and hard working.”

As a mom whose three children spent many years involved in music, I can attest to the power of musical training and performance to enhance those ever so important life skills like discipline and persistence.

Tomorrow’s post will feature a personal perspective on Young Sounds by a relatively new member, who’ll share some of the challenges and joys she’s experiencing as a young musician.

Stay tuned…


Coming up: The making of a MIM–the Musical Instrument Museum opening in Phoenix on April 24th

Personal Perspectives: The Phoenix Youth Symphony

Guest blogger Brenna Goth

By Brenna Goth, Guest Blogger

Most students join the Phoenix Youth Symphony for a challenge. There comes a point when even the best of school orchestras can become dull for those pursuing music as a serious hobby. On Wednesday nights, all of these players converge at Central High School to share their common passion: orchestral music.

I was motivated to join PYS after my private viola teacher recommended it as the “next step” in becoming a competitive musician. I joined the program in seventh grade and was hooked until graduating from high school six years later.

My involvement in PYS became one of the most influential activities in my life.

Contrary to what you might imagine, PYS is not only for young virtuosos. In fact, many of us start with only basic training and a willingness to work. PYS is broken into four levels, and each focuses on developing orchestral skills. This way, students who enter with little experience can progress and “move up” throughout the years.

When I started PYS after three years of viola lessons, I didn’t know rehearsal techniques or how to play with a group. This wasn’t a problem, as I soon learned the ins and outs of following a conductor and leading a section and progressed through the various levels.

Many of the skills that I developed, like personal discipline and how to work in a group, have served me beyond the musical realm.

PYS promoted my personal growth but also gave me experiences that would’ve been impossible otherwise. I’ve played under influential conductors, worked with members of The Phoenix Symphony, and been critiqued by regionally known musicians.

I’ve played at Symphony Hall, the Orpheum, and Tempe Center for the Arts. I’ve performed concerts alongside the Phoenix Symphony and with professional soloists.

Finally, I’ve had the opportunity to travel to and perform throughout Washington D.C., Austria, the Czech Republic, and Italy, and I can honestly say that some of the best memories of my life are from these tours.

PYS is as much social as it is musical. Throughout my six years, Wednesday nights became associated with good food and lively conversation in addition to orchestral repertoire. Every Wednesday, my PYS friends and I grabbed dinner to catch up before rehearsal, and sometimes we’d even have sleepovers afterwards.

Though our conversations spanned across all subjects, I instantly bonded with my fellow orchestra members over our common interest. I still value these friends, with whom I can gossip about Lady Gaga as well as discuss my favorite Dvorak quintets.

That’s not to say that I enjoyed every moment of my PYS experience. There were days when an impending essay seemed more important than rehearsing Mahler, or my Sundays were made stressful by a concert. And, of course, there were carefully prepared auditions that I bombed and times that my section was called out for being ill-prepared.

Despite these upsets, PYS has had a profound impact on my life. Though I’m not pursuing music at the University of Arizona, I am a member of the Arizona Symphony and plan on joining community orchestras throughout my life.

Because of PYS, I no longer see music in terms of hours spent in a practice room. Instead, I see it as a passion that’s integrated in all aspects of my life.

Brenna Goth is a freshman at the University of Arizona in Tucson. Since writing this post, Brenna has informed me that she’s joined  the “Arizona Daily Wildcat” at U of A as a news reporter. I look forward to reading her work.

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…


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.