Youth Orchestra Nurtures Musicians of Tomorrow
By training the musicians of tomorrow, the Brevard Symphony Youth Orchestra ensures the world can always benefit from more balm for the soul — good music. Whether or not these young musicians pursue a professional career in music, they still will be able to relay music’s ability to connect us all in a universal language.
“These kids share a love of music,” said Lisa McAlpine, executive director for the Youth Orchestra.
In its 38 years, the Youth Orchestra has helped mold thousands of young musicians. Currently, 107 students from first graders to high school seniors represent public, private and home schools from around the county.
Students are grouped according to their proficiency in the Youth Orchestra’s three sections. Most students enter the Youth Orchestra through the String Ensemble, the section that typically includes the younger players. As the musician develops, he or she moves up to Festivo, the Youth Orchestra’s middle group before graduating to the top group, the Symphony Orchestra. A summer strings camp further homes the abilities of these young artists.
While age usually plays a major factor in which group the students play, it doesn’t always. Eleven-year-old violinist Ava Howell, for example, is already proficient enough to be embedded within the upper-level Symphony Orchestra. Ava joined BSYO at age 6, her first step toward becoming a professional classical musician, and, hopefully, a composer, too.
“Ava loves that the Youth Orchestra conductors choose challenging music of different styles and from different musical periods,” said Ava’s dad, Joel Howell. “The conductors are patient, supportive and believe that studying and playing classical music will aid in their development as human beings.”
Being part of the orchestra has certainly helped Ava on her musical journey. She was accepted to the Interlochen Center for the Arts Advanced Strings Junior Summer Program. The Michigan music camp is one of the most competitive in the country.
“Interlochen is the best program for young children,” said her proud dad.
Joining the Youth Orchestra entails a significant commitment of time — the kids practice every Monday at Eau Gallie High School in preparation for the four concerts the Youth Orchestra performs. A majority of students also sign up for the week-long Summer String Camp, which provides an intensive experience.
Oboe player Sarah Ward travels one hour each way from her home in Vero Beach in order to play with the BSYO.
“The journey is worth it for the experience of playing with other musicians who are just as passionate about their craft as I am,” said 17-year-old Sarah, a high school senior who has been playing with the orchestra since her freshman year.
“Participating in BSYO has allowed me to form friendships that will last for many years to come and to gain a higher appreciation for orchestral works. It is refreshing to be submerged into an environment where students are willing to work hard in order to produce music that impacts those who take time to listen.”
Like Ava, Sarah hopes to go pro.
“At this point, I would like to go into performance, but I have a passion for teaching, as well,” she said.
Once students join BYSO, they tend to stay.
“We have some kids who have played with us for nine or 10 years,” McAlpine said. “They keep coming back year after year.”
In some households, orchestra is a family affair. One family has four siblings currently involved.
The Orchestra performs four concerts a year, two in the spring and two in the fall, at Eau Gallie High School Auditorium.
“Our audience tends to be family and friends,” McAlpine said.
Admission to concerts is free, but donations are gratefully accepted, since, as it is with most performing arts groups, making ends meet is always a challenge.
Tuition of $200 a semester, or $400 a year, is modest, as is the $225 it costs for students to attend the week-long Summer Strings Camp.
Grants and donations from Friends of the BSYO and from funding organizations such as the Community Foundation for Brevard and the Eleanor Baird Kristensen Foundation help BYSO provide scholarships to students who otherwise may not financially be able to participate.
Local businesses such as Atlantic Strings, The Horn Section and Wickham Road Music also support BSYO. Tax-deductible donations from the general public help the Orchestra to purchase music, bring in specialized clinicians and offset venue costs.
A hand-painted violin has been added to their coffers. The musical instrument will be painted by Christopher Maslow, one of the Space Coast’s premier muralists and the artist-in-residency at Hotel Melby in downtown Melbourne, and auctioned next season as part of the BSYO fundraising strategy.
Being part of the Youth Orchestra is being part of a musical tribe striving for excellence.
“These kids work their butts off,” McAlpine said.