The Bloomington Normal Youth Symphony is celebrating its silver anniversary season this year with a Sunday concert. WGLT's Charlie Schlenker has more on how the youth music group has changed over its quarter century
Dozens of Junior high students up to seniors in high school from all over McLean County tune for rehearsal one Tuesday evening at Evans Junior High in south Bloomington. Conductor Deanne Bryant has held the baton for the last 20 years.
"Let's go back one two three four before thirteen? Actually, go five before thirteen."
More than 625 young musicians have come through the program so far. Bryant says over the decades the caliber of musicianship has improved markedly as school orchestra programs have solidified.
"Sight reading!. Sight reading skills are very high in this group. That's a significant difference. We play a lot of difficult music and these students just eat it up. 25 years ago that was a challenge to repeat it enough that we get past the sight reading part."
Bryant says the youth symphony members have enough polish to do what many their ages cannot, produce dynamic shading, and shape the phrasing of each section of the score to make a beautiful effect.
"A lot of the students are taking privately but they are also from strong programs in the schools. We have some young members who are learning from the more experienced students about the phrasing and about the musicality that goes into what we do."
Anne Meysenburg, has two sons in the Bloomington Normal Youth Symphony, violinists Eddie and Tommy Harris who go to Kingsley Jr High and Normal Community.
"Better musicians than what they have in school because it's all the best from the city, so they get to play more challenging music. I think that's what they like the most."
Sometimes the music is a big step up and a surprise Meysenburg says, the first time they see the repertoire.
"I think my older son it was more of a shock, the hard music. Having to.... You get the music the first day so you can't practice it ahead of time. So I remember my older one saying, yea I played a few notes. (laughs)"
"This is my fifth year now. I am the principal cellist."
Alex Su goes to University High School in Normal. He says the youth symphony has taught him a lot about playing together as a group and becoming a section leader has done even more.
"The biggest challenge is definitely keeping everyone together during the concert of course. But, then there is also things that I probably wouldn't have expected like you know making sure everyone has got the same music with the same markings on all the pages and really trying to make sure that everyone in your section is well informed and ready to go every day. (How do you signal during a concert where everyone should be and give your section cues?) A lot of that just comes in the breathing actually. Breathing together as a section is very important. (Breathing. What do you mean?) Well, right before the entire section is about to play something, oftentimes we will breathe at the same time, you know take a breath in (inhales) and even if it is audible like that, that's fine, as long as everyone gets the page so long as we are all moving as a section because playing is really a moving creature of itself."
"If you attend a school that does not have a symphony, there is nothing like playing in a symphony."
Laura Dolan manages the symphony this year, making sure the music gets to the right people. Dolan's daughter, a clarinetist has moved on to college.
"I mean a band is fantastic, but to have that string section with you. It's just amazing. And I'll tell you some of these kids. The most exciting thing about the orchestra, I think, is to see all these kids from Colfax, Downs, Bloomington Normal, driving every week, no credit, no one is telling them they have to do this. This is their free time, and they come out here to do this."
"The section um before L. If you could take a little look at that. Cellos bouncing your bow? Puh puh puh. How many of you are bouncing?"
Conductor Deanne Bryant.
"It's just amazing what we can do. We'll work on music one week and I will tell them something that we need to have happen and it's in place. The next week they do it. To me that's amazing. "
Dolan says the kids also get life lessons from working on music of this difficulty.
"Just the discipline of having to get into the practice room and work that tough section that you just cannot play, slowly over and over. And now that's how she does it with homework and everything in her life. And the day that you get that and you look back and you say what was so hard about that passage?"
"This is my third year."
Madison Dong is a cellist and freshman student at NCHS.
"I really like to play with other musicians that you wouldn't normally be able to play with. I'd say that I've probably met about five or six people that I talk to pretty frequently. Even though the breaks aren't very long, you really get to know them because you spend two hours every week with them."
Deanne Bryant says the students also tend to see each other at Illinois Music Educator District festivals and summer music camps and so on.
"We have had a marriage of two former members. They met. One went to U-high and one went to Downs. They both went to IMEA. And then they both played in Community Players Orchestra pits and then Community band and that's actually what solidified their relationship."
In addition to life-long friendships, some students have gone on to become professional musicians, even in international orchestras. Many others go on to other occupations but, continue learning, loving, and living the joy of music in their communities.
Support Your Public Radio Station