Youth orchestra experience gives young musicians new challenges

November 15, 2011

Kara Patterson

Post Crescent

Listeners at the Fox Valley Symphony Youth Orchestras' fall concert will hear the flagship Youth Orchestra play challenging pieces, such as movements from Dvorak's "New World Symphony," that are standard repertoire for professional orchestras.

"This really challenges us technically and musically," said Youth Orchestra co-concertmaster and first violin Paige Erickson, an Appleton West High School senior. "At high school orchestras, we typically get arrangements. Whereas a school orchestra might be developing some basic skill sets and helping you express a musical idea as a team, this (Youth Orchestras program) challenges you to make it even more pronounced and to work together in a new way."

The concert, which also features the Concert Orchestra and Philharmonia, begins at 4:30 p.m. Sunday in the Lawrence Memorial Chapel at Lawrence University in Appleton.

The Fox Valley Symphony's youth programming, including the roughly 170-member, three-ensemble Youth Orchestras program and the annual Partners in Education concert for elementary school students that involves the Youth Orchestra, continues to be the symphony's most visible community outreach.

"Youth Orchestras, for the Fox Valley Symphony, is a way for us to reach out to kids, to get them interested in the orchestra experience, hopefully come to concerts, have their parents come to concerts, and have that culture and community of being a part of an orchestra," said Melissa Gurholt, the symphony's youth and education programs manager. "It's fantastic for kids to have this experience where they're meeting kids with similar interests, the music, and that's what an orchestra is all about. I feel pretty passionately about creating a strong community for those kids.

There are wonderful things happening at high schools in the area, there's no doubt about it, but to get these kids from all different areas together so they have experiences with a conductor they're not used to helps them musically as well."

Erickson, 17, said she's learned much from past Youth Orchestra concertmasters and hopes she also can inspire student musicians and audience members alike.

"I really want as many people as I can to feel connected to music, and if I can be a source of that, it makes me feel good about what I'm doing, and the Youth Orchestras is a really big help in that," she said.

The program includes the Youth Orchestra, for advanced student musicians in grades nine through twelve; Philharmonia, a string orchestra for seventh- through tenth-graders; and the Concert Orchestra, a new all-strings ensemble that is a bridge group between Philharmonia and the Youth Orchestra.

Gurholt said Youth Orchestras also works closely with the Lawrence Academy of Music. Although not under the symphony's umbrella, the Academy of Music's Academy String Orchestra (ASTRO) for fifth- through -eighth graders serves as a feeder ensemble.

Part of the symphony's commitment to youth is its recent search for a new Youth Orchestra conductor. Past conductor Gary Wolfman had left the position earlier this year when he moved to Minnesota.

Lawrence's director of orchestra studies, David Becker, serves as the Youth Orchestra's interim conductor. Seong-Kyung Graham, who conducts the Civic Symphony of Green Bay and teaches at Ripon College, will take the baton beginning Jan. 8.

Gurholt said as a part of the search process, finalists each conducted a rehearsal, and a committee of student musicians conducted interviews.

"During that rehearsal, (Seong-Kyung Graham) just took our breath away," Gurholt said. "As she was getting done conducting, she had this look of just sheer joy on her face. That room was just electric with excitement and passion. We really could see her taking this group to the next level, which was the deciding factor for us."

Graham, 45, of Kaukauna, said it's important to offer programs like Youth Orchestras for talented youth musicians, whether or not they pursue music careers.

"I think it energizes the local music programs and encourages other students and parents to get involved in orchestral programs," she said. "It is like having comfort food or favorite food that we love to have at any time. Those foods come from when we were growing up... If we don't have these experiences, we will never miss those tastes and in turn we will never look for them. By investing in youth programs in the community, we are educating not only children, but also their parents and friends and neighbors about importance in music and arts. I think it all comes back in full circle."


What: Fox Valley Symphony Youth Orchestras' fall concert

When: 4:30 p.m. Sunday

Where: Lawrence Memorial Chapel at Lawrence University in downtown Appleton

Details: The Youth Orchestras' three ensembles, the flagship Youth Orchestra, the Concert Orchestra and Philharmonia, will perform. Conducting are David Becker (Youth Orchestra), Greg Austin (Concert Orchestra) and Carrie Lane Gruselle (Philharmonia.)

Tickets: $10 adults, $6 students. Family four-packs are available for $28 (two adults, two children.) They're available in advance at the Fox Valley Symphony office, 111 W. College Ave., Suite 550, and Heid Music, 308 E. College Ave., both in downtown Appleton. They're also available in the chapel lobby one hour before the concert.

Contact: 920-968-0300

On the Web: Fox Valley Symphony at (Look under the Youth Orchestra & Education tab for more information about the symphony's youth programming.)


Youth Orchestras auditions for the 2012-13 school year take place in April. To request an audition by appointment for this school year, call Melissa Gurholt, the symphony's youth and education programs manager, at 920-968-0300, ext. 24.

A look ahead: Lawrence Academy of Music's Academy String Orchestra (ASTRO) and Fox Valley Symphony's Philharmonia present a spring concert, 3 p.m. March 18, Lawrence Memorial Chapel. Tickets: $8 adults, $5 students. Fox Valley Symphony's Youth Orchestra and Concert Orchestra present a spring concert, 4:30 p.m. March 25, Lawrence Memorial Chapel. Tickets: $10 adults, $6 students.

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