Tag Archives: The Phoenix Symphony

Once upon a theater camp

Aaron Zweiback performs in Green Eggs & Ham with The Phoenix Symphony on St. Patrick's Day

I was reminded while reading Mala Blomquist’s post this morning that spring break camps will soon be upon us, and was busy trolling for camps with an arts and culture twist when interrupted by a call from 12-year-old actor and ASA student Aaron Zweiback, whose theater teachers include Xanthia Walker.

I first met Zweiback last summer when my daughter Lizabeth, who now studies acting in NYC, was a teacher assistant with Childsplay Academy in Tempe. She’d invited me to see the final performance of a summer workshop with a “Hairspray” theme. Zweiback was one of several campers performing snippets of the musical for family and friends — and his Edna a la bathrobe was a hoot. He’s also done theater camps with Phoenix Theatre.

I ran into Zweiback after a recent Valley Youth Theatre performance of “Charlotte’s Web” — during which he rocked the rat role — and put fist to ear with the typical “call me” sign after chatting with his dad. In a rather spooky coincidence, I’d been wondering earlier this morning whether he’d ever have time to actually pick up a phone.

Today was the day, and the call couldn’t have been better timed. Turns out Zweiback is performing in several shows I’ll be seeing in coming days and weeks. I learned yesterday that I’ll need a little snip to a torn part of my left knee, but decided to postpone all things arthroscopy for another two weeks in order to keep my review calendar mostly intact.

Aaron Zweiback recently performed in Charlotte's Web at Valley Youth Theatre

So life looks like this for me and my knee: See Zweiback and others perform in “Gypsy” at Phoenix Theatre this weekend, limp my way through a trip to visit Lizabeth over spring break, then catch a returning flight in the wee hours that gets me home just in time to hit another Zweiback gig — The Phoenix Symphony performing “Green Eggs and Ham.” Then squeeze in the surgery thing (with a doc who took his kids to see a friend from the Valley perform in “Grease” on Broadway a few years ago). I’m told the wait won’t worsen what ails me.

Turns out “Green Eggs and Ham” includes all sorts of amazing folks from Valley stages. ASA teacher and renowned Valley actor Toby Yatso, with whom both Lizabeth and Zweiback have studied voice, is narrating the story. Zweiback does his “boy soprano” thing as “Sam I Am” and shared that the theatrical piece of the concert is being blocked, choreographed and directed by Bobb Cooper, VYT’s producing artistic director.

There’s another Sam in Zweiback’s life as well — an actor named Sam Primack whose little mittens I once guarded with care as backstage mom for a Greasepaint Youtheatre production of “Oliver.” He and Zweiback were in “A Christmas Story” at Phoenix Theatre earlier this season, and both are cast in Childsplay’s world premiere production of Dwayne Hartford’s “The Color of Stars.”

Sam Primack poses with a VYT fan after performing in Charlotte's Web

After Zweiback shared a bit about auditioning for all these shows, I invited him to write a guest blog with audition tips for young actors — and he graciously agreed. It takes a generous spirit to share one’s own “secrets to success” and Zweiback certainly has one. I fully expect to see him performing on Broadway stages one day, and hope he’ll also keep an eye out for opportunities to audition for roles in works by William Shakespeare where his intellect and gift for comedy would shine.

If the ticket fairies are working in my favor, I’ll be able to enjoy the work of another Valley-trained actor while in NYC next week. Nick Cartell, who has performed with VYT, Phoenix Theatre and other Arizona companies makes his Broadway debut this month in a revival of “Jesus Christ Superstar.”

Katie Czajkowksi and Aaron Zweiback after a Childsplay summer camp performance based on the musical Hairspray

I’m also looking forward to the Homestead Playhouse production of “Holes,” being performed at Copper Ridge School in Scottsdale March 28-30, because another young performer I met after the Childsplay “Hairspray” camp performance landed the warden role. Katie’s mom, Deb Czajkowski, recently got in touch to share the happy news — and her thoughts on the many benefits of theater for youth.

I hope those of you still wondering what your children or teens might enjoy doing over spring break will do a little theater camp legwork. One day, perhaps, you’ll get to turn to your child and share the old theater adage for good luck — “Break a leg!” Just try to keep your own body parts intact in the meantime…

— Lynn

Note: Click here to read Mala Blomquist’s post on spring break camps and here to learn about all sorts of summer camps. Find additional spring break camps at Voices Studio, Creative Stages Youth Theatre and Mesa Arts Center (if you’ve got one, send me the scoop at rakstagemom@gmail.com).

Coming up: Spring break NYC-style, Hometown boy makes Broadway debut


Everything’s coming up Rosie

Rosie's House holds its 2012 Anniversary Celebration this Friday

Everything’s coming up music at Rosie’s House, a Phoenix music academy for children founded in 1996 to serve low-income families by inspiring social change and helping students develop a committment to personal and academic achievement.

Their “2012 Anniversary Celebration” takes place this Fri, March 2, from 6-8pm at Scottsdale Artists’ School. Folks who attend are encouraged to don “festive attire” for the event that’ll span both gallery and patio spaces.

Cello student at Rosie's House

Rosie’s House will honor three individuals during the event — including Michael Christie, music director of The Phoenix Symphony, jazz pianist and arts advocate Charles Lewis and Rosie’s House piano faculty member Erin Crawford.

Both Lewis and jazz singer Alice Tatum are performing “musical selections” at Friday’s shindig, as are Rosie House students.

Music advocacy and jazz stylings are all good and fine, but some of you may feel motivated to attend by the prospect of acquiring an amazing bit of rock and roll bling — an electric guitar signed by Nils Lofgren, who has performed with Bruce Springsteen as a member of the E Street Band. Also Neil Young and Ringo Starr.

Other auction items include a California vacation package (think $500 US Airways gift card and 3-bedroom vacation home in Encinitas), an Arizona hiking package (think 6-night stay in a log-sided cabin in Overgaard) and a musical performance by violinists Dian D’Avanzo and Karen Bea of The Phoenix Symphony.

Sounds like lots of hip eateries — including The Vig, Il Postino, Beckett’s Table, Downtown Public Market and Cibo — have donated raffle basket items. Others supporting the cause with donations include Harkins Theatres, AMF Bowling, Arizona Diamondbacks and many more.

Tickets runs $75 and are available by calling 602-252-8472 or clicking here.

— Lynn

Note: Click here to learn more about Rosie’s House and here to learn more about Scottsdale Artists’ School

Coming up: Art meets cell phone

Charmed (again) by Childsplay

Dear Mr. Springsteen:

I regret to inform you that in the event of a midlife crisis, I no longer plan to buy a cool blue T-top so I can follow you and the E Street Band around the country. Someone else has stolen my heart.

They have a singing cat and a clown-nosed hunter and a witty wolf that looks like Harry Potter’s Snape or The Nutcracker’s Herr Drosselmeyer all jumbled up with Lady Gaga. You still look great in a pair of blue jeans, but my tastes have changed.

Once you’ve gazed upon a green-gowned grandpa who talks a tad like the younger George Bush, or a ducky sporting a green velour jumper, there’s just no going back. Please tell me you understand—and that you’ll put in a good word for Childsplay with those folks who do the Kennedy Center Honors.

I think you’re both national treasures.

Love, Lynn

For those of you who haven’t yet had the pleasure of seeing Childsplay’s current production of “Peter and the Wolf,” being performed at Tempe Center for the Arts through March 13th, I’m pleased to share a bit about the show—which features some of the finest acting I’ve seen just about anywhere.

This is especially nifty considering that most kids go to Childsplay shows with their grown-ups, and we like being inspired and entertained every bit as much as the wee ones. Everything about “Peter and the Wolf” is charming—the music, the sets, the costumes, the storytelling.

Saturday morning’s audience, there for the Target Storybook Preview, was enthusiastic from the get-go. The moment the show opened, with a perky puppet that morphed into an earnest and innocent Peter, the room was peppered with giggles from the preschool through elementary age crowd.

The set, designed by Jeff Lemire, is a simple layering of green rolling hills with trees on each side and a low stone wall running the length of the stage. It’s punctuated by a gate Peter often leaves ajar (much to the dismay of his grandfather, who fears the goats and sheep will wander into their garden).

Peter and his peeps often refer to the vegetables they enjoy in everything from soup to dessert. Nutrition-conscious parents will appreciate the hearty endorsement of all things carrots to cabbage. Even tuna salad gets a thumbs-up.

We have Austin playwright Allison Gregory to thank for this innovative piece of theater—adapted from the story by Sergei Prokofiev. Lyrics are by Gregory and Seattle composer Hummie Mann, who also wrote the music, putting a whimsical spin on Prokofiev’s musical masterpiece.

Coincidentally, my oldest daughter Jennifer has just wandered into the kitchen (also known as “blogging central”) to inquire about what’s for dinner. “Chili,” I tell her, “if you can give me an hour to finish my review.” We chat a bit about “Peter and the Wolf,” and she asks me a question: “Is the duck the oboe?”

She’s remembering the classic Prokofiev piece which assigns each animal a different musical instrument, and hoping she chose the right four letter word in a recently completed crossword puzzle. (Our brood so enjoys playing with words.)

But this production has a new twist—a creative compilation of jazz, blues, swing, gospel and Latin music that has the audience clapping along to the beat. Double the fun by heading to the Phoenix Symphony’s performance of “Peter & the Wolf” after you’ve seen Childsplay’s really-cool rendition.

Childsplay’s production is directed by founder and artistic director David Saar, who knows firsthand the depth and delight a shining and sensitive little boy can bring to the world. Saar and his wife Sonja Faeroy Saar are parents to Benjamin, who died of AIDS-related complications at the tender age of eight after a tainted blood transfusion given to treat his hemophilia.

I thought of Benjamin each time a character in the play said something that implied kids are somehow less astute or insightful than their grown-ups, like the hunter telling Peter: “Oh, you’re just a child. You don’t know about such things.” The Saars, like Childsplay’s littlest audience members, know just how far this is from the truth.

I was reminded of Sonja Faeroy Saar, a Tempe-based fiber artist with Norwegian roots, as colorfully-clad characters began to pour onto the stage–because the fabrics are simply delightful and married in the most marvelous ways.

The costumes, designed by Connie Furr-Soloman, are nothing short of spectacular works of art—quacking, quivering, snarling and darling pieces of art. I’d love to see these costumes on exhibit one day (hint, hint).

The whole shebang is just downright yummy, like someone took a rainbow of ice cream flavors and mixed them into a kaleidoscope with a giant jarful of striped multi-colored candy sticks.

You may have surmised by now that I could wax poetic over “Peter and the Wolf” long into the night. Instead, I think, I’ll tend to my pot of chili and save related Childsplay musings for another day.

Look for a follow-up post featuring insights from a fellow mom who sat next to me during the show and information about the many ways Childsplay can enrich the lives of those you love.


Note: This post marks my 100th day of blogging. If you’ve read something along the way that’s been especially intriguing or inspiring (or just plain helpful), I’d love to hear about it. Watch for a future post sharing reflections on the beauty of blogging. As always, I thank you ever so much for reading and invite your suggestions about topics to cover during our next 100 days together…

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.