My Time in Youth Symphony

In an attempt to go semi-chronologically here, I thought I’d talk about my time in the Kansas City Youth Symphony (7th grade-12th grade, or 1991-1997).  They have a website now! (Websites didn’t exist when I was in it.)

I auditioned at the end of my 6th grade year when I’d only been playing cello about a year. I was at first turned down becuase I wasn’t quite ready, but then they started a younger string group (I think that was the first year of the Junior Orchestra, later renamed Symphonette) and I was accepted into that. Then going into the 8th and 9th grade I played in the Middle (Philharmonic), and then for 10th grade I made Senior (Symphony). At the end of my junior year, I actually auditioned on both viola (which I had started playing about 4 months prior when I got one for Christmas) and cello. My plan was to play viola in Middle and continue on cello in Senior. Imagine my surprise when they put me on viola in Senior! Here i was playing Suzuki book 3 stuff and was given the full orchestra part to Symphonie fantastique. I took lessons (Thanks Carl Cook) and muddled my way through some pretty impressive literature. Actually, all 3 years I was in it I muddled my way through impressive literature.

It’s hard to know where to begin explaining what an impact that Youth Symphony had on me. Without it I probably would have dropped out of school orchestra (too boring), which would have been horrible in retrospect as that’s where the majority of my good friends in junior high and high school came from. I also made some AWESOME friends in youth symphony – people that I am still friends with on facebook. They are people I would not have met otherwise.

I also would not have practiced nearly as much, as I HAD to practice my youth symphony music or face Dr. Block’s wrath. (Which I did anyway – “can’t either of you Harris’ count??” after my brother and I both managed to mess up Der Rosenkavalier.)

It also made me aware of what “real” music was. The first piece we worked on at start up camp when I made senior orchestra was Shostakovich Symphony No. 5. I fell in love. I had no idea what real music was until I started learning that. It made such an impact on me I even did my 10th grade joint English/Social Studies research paper on Shosatkovich and loved learning all about his compositional style and run ins with the communist government. (Little did I know then that I would eventually get a graduate degree in musicology. It all makes sense now.) During the 3 years I was in that orchestra we also did Berlioz Symphonie fantastique, Bartok Concerto for Orchestra, Tchaikovsky Symphony No. 4 or 5 (I did one in YS and one in college…), Saint-Saens Symphony No. 3 (Organ), Strauss Der Rosenkavalier, Sibelius Symphony No. 1, Stravinsky Firebird Suite, among a myriad of concerti and overtures, and of course the yearly Concert for Champions horse show (at which we always did the 1812 Overture). I have youth symphony to thank for me flooring my Music Lit teacher in college. We were talking about Symphonie fantastique and he mentioned it was written in 1833. I raised my hand and said, “Really? It sounds more like Tchaikovsky, late 1800’s. 1833 isn’t that long after Beethoven.” Needless to say he wrote me a GLOWING recommendation for graduate study in musicology.

I also got to go on 3 wonderful trips thanks to youth symphony, including my first trip out of the country. In 1995 or 1996 we went to Banff (in Canada) to play at a festival. I had an amazing time. Then, in 1997 I got to play in Carnegie Hall (and tour New York City, of course). It was a trip I will never forget. The following year, even though I was in college already, the symphony was asked to send some musicians for a youth orchestra to play in Carnegie Hall. They needed violas, so I volunteered (as I was still 19). (Thanks to my brother for still being in the orchestra!) Another amazing trip.

So, did youth symphony have an impact on my life? Yes. Just a few months ago I got all kinds of excited when the community orchestra I’m a ringer for called and asked me to play on their upcoming concert and told me they were doing the Organ Symphony. Who gets excited about stuff like that? Orchestra nerds, that’s who! Would I be a music teacher today without having been in youth symphony? It’s hard to say, but my guess is no. Chances are I would have gone into journalism or biology out of high school.

And I’d probably be making more money now, but wouldn’t be nearly as happy with my job. 🙂

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