Louisiana Youth Orchestra works to develop good people and good musicians, too
The iPad in her hands is a wondrous creation, but no matter how high it sits in the technological hierarchy, it will never been able to play the clarinet in her lap.
That’s a human thing, making music. And this young clarinet player immediately — and willingly — traded technology for the Wieniawaski “Concert No. 2” the moment David Torns stepped to the podium.
In fact, all of the kids in the LSU Orchestra Room stopped what they were doing at this particular moment and grabbed their violins, cellos, French horns, percussion and flutes.
That’s naming just a few of the instruments that make up the Louisiana Youth Orchestra, which will be playing the first movement of Henryk Wieniawaski’s concerto, along with George Gershwin’s “An American in Paris” at its 2012 Spring Concert on Sunday, May 6, in Baton Rouge Community College’s Magnolia Performing Arts Pavilion.
Zoe Jones later added to that list, saying the harp is “the best instrument ever.”
It’s what she plays, what she’s been playing as a youth orchestra member for the last five years.
And she has gathered in the LSU Orchestra room with some 90 young musicians for rehearsal from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Mondays during the school year.
Musicians between ages 15 and 20 traipsed in before rehearsal in shorts and flip flops, sweat pants and tennis shoes. Some took time to visit; others took out their iPads and caught up with the news on their Facebook pages.
But the iPads quickly disappeared when concertmaster Hyungie Sung called for everyone to tune up. Then Torns took the podium.
And the Wieniawski concerto began.
Again, this is such a human thing, making music. Anything can alter a performer’s playing ability on any given day.
Moods, allergies, stress and worrying about the next day’s algebra test can hinder a rehearsal. Then again, music has a way of surpassing all understanding, blighting anxiety for the couple of hours it’s being played.
And it’s here that worries are cast aside, the outside world is put away and music soothes souls.
“It’s all about the music,” Torns said. “Not all of these kids will choose careers in music, but it’s something that will always stay with them. Music is something that never goes away — you carry it through life. We’re not only developing good musicians here but music patrons, as well.”
Not to mention well-rounded people.
“Our goal is to develop good people here, too,” Torns said. “They not only learn different kinds of music, but they meet kids from different places and form friendships. And they learn so many things from music like the discipline that goes into playing it.”
Torns laughed. His position as director of the Louisiana Youth Orchestra can be divided into several roles: psychologist, teacher, confidant, even parent figure.
“You have to be all of these things when you work with kids,” he said. “They come in and talk to you, and you have to help them work through their problems.”
But again, music takes precedence. It’s why the Baton Rouge Symphony Orchestra formed the Louisiana Youth Orchestra 27 years ago.
The orchestra is an educational component of the Baton Rouge Symphony and a project of the Baton Rouge Symphony League. Its stated mission is to “supplement and enhance music education in the schools and promote the highest standards of orchestral performance.”
“We treat the youth orchestra as if they’re playing in the Baton Rouge Symphony,” Torns said. “I promised myself when I took this job that the youth orchestra would play selections that are arranged for high school level groups. We play the same arrangements that the symphony plays.”
He thumbed through the conductor’s score for “An American in Paris.” This is the same score Timothy Muffitt used when the symphony orchestra played Gershwin’s symphonic tone poem during its recent Entergy Masterworks season.
Muffett is the symphony’s conductor and music director. Torns is the symphony’s assistant conductor, as well as director of the youth orchestra. And he’s music director of the entire youth program, which also includes the Louisiana Youth Orchestra Percussion Ensemble, the Louisiana Junior Youth Orchestra for middle school musicians and the Louisiana Junior String Ensemble for elementary school musicians.
These groups combine to stage more than 150 musicians between ages 6 and 20, all selected by competitive auditions.
Some musicians begin playing in the youngest group, the string ensemble, and work their way to the youth orchestra. Some wait until high school to audition for the program.
“They have to re-audition every year,” Torns said. “We hold them to a high musical standard.”
And in the end, friendships are forged not only among musicians but between musicians and the ensemble directors. Lisa McGibney directs the string ensemble, and Chris Hoefer directs the percussion ensemble.
At at this moment, about a half hour before the youth orchestra’s rehearsal, Jennifer Cassin directed the junior youth orchestra in the LSU Orchestra Room.
“They begin their rehearsal at 5:30, before the youth orchestra’s rehearsal,” Torns said. “And the string ensemble begins at 5:45 in the LSU Choir Room. We have a great relationship with LSU. The symphony rehearses here before going to the River Center for rehearsal, and LSU allows us to rehearse here. There’s really no other place in Baton Rouge that could accommodate our schedule.”
Torns was named musical director in 2003, after serving as assistant conductor of the Symphony of the Mountains and music director of the Symphony of the Mountains Youth Orchestra in Kingsport, Tenn.
He’s seen lots of kids come and go through the program in the last nine years and remembers well his first group of kids who entered as high school freshmen and left as graduating seniors.
That was an exciting milestone, but it also was a little sad. Good-byes always are.
But when one group of kids leaves, another group takes its place.
“I’ve seen these kids go to different colleges and move on to different careers,” Torns said. “Not all of them are going into music. I’ve seen them go into the medical profession and law school. But music will always be with them.”
But not just any kind of music — orchestra music.
Most of the members of the youth orchestra program come from schools that have band programs but no orchestras. Bands are wind and percussion instrument groups. Orchestras have limited wind and percussion rosters and are heavy on stringed instruments. And most schools usually don’t offer string classes or programs. Most times, the funding isn’t there for these programs.
“So, this is their chance to play in an orchestra,” Torns said. “And playing in an orchestra offers more opportunities than playing in a band. If you major in music in a band program, your option is to teach band after graduation. But orchestras offer more performance opportunities.”
And they’ll receive one of those performance opportunities early in their music careers when the orchestras and ensembles perform on May 6. It’ll be the final performance in their three-concert season with the Louisiana Youth Orchestra featuring one of two winners of its concerto contest.
This will be violinist Yuehui Ji soloing in the Wieniawaski concerto. The second winner, harpist Deborah Goppelt, will solo with the orchestra in September.
“She played piano in the competition, so that’s what she’ll be playing in the concert,” Torns said. “The competition was open only to our members, and the prize for the winners is that they’ll get to solo with the orchestra.”
This is also valuable experience for aspiring musicians.
Torns sat in the hallway listening as the junior orchestra neared the end of its rehearsal. Soon his group would be walking in with instruments, electronic gadgets and lots of stories.
And waiting with him was Wendy Holden-Parker, who, with husband Robert Parker, not only are parents to a student in the program but donors.
Holden-Parker is a local physician. Her musical career began and ended in fourth grade band, so it naturally surprised her when her son Sean announced that he wanted to play the cello.
Sean Parker is a sixth grader at the Runnels School, which has a strings program. That program, in fact, is directed by the junior youth orchestra’s director, Cassin.
“They have the program, but they don’t have an orchestra,” Holden-Parker said. “Sean is in the junior orchestra this year, and he plans to continue to the youth orchestra.”
Now, Sean Parker chose to play the cello on his own.
“He said it made his heart sing,” Holden-Parker said.
Just as the harp appealed to Jones. Remember her? She called the harp the “most best instrument ever.” She fell in love with the harp after watching Disney’s animated feature film The Aristocats, where the character Duchess plays the harp.
“I always loved the harp after that,” Jones said.
Meantime, fellow orchestra member. Charlene Guilliams plays the clarinet.
Now, Guilliams’ story is a little different. She’s the second generation in her family to pass through this orchestra. Her mom, Tammy Vining Guilliams, was a violist in the orchestra’s early years.
“My mom thinks it’s great that I’m in the orchestra,” Guilliams said. “She told me about her first year in the orchestra and showed me old pictures.”
This year marks Guilliams’ first in the orchestra. She’s a sophomore at Parkview Baptist School, where she’s a member of both the marching and symphonic bands.
Jones is homeschooled and is a senior this year. This is her fifth year in the youth orchestra program, and she, along with Goppelt, is one of three harpists in the program.
“There’s a group of homeschool students that sometimes plays together, but it’s not like this,” Jones said. “I want to major in music. I play better with a group and accompanying other musicians, so I want to continue playing with symphonies.”
Jones originally planned to attend LSU after graduation, but that changed when the School of Music cut its harp program. She’ll now be attending the University of Arizona.
And though Guilliams doesn’t plan a career in music, her plans are to enroll at LSU after graduation.
But first things first. The concert is just around the corner, and Jones and Guilliams walked into the orchestra room and blended with the rest of the musicians, who were instantly silent the moment Torns took the podium.
He raised his arms, and the music began, heartfelt and real.
As only musicians can play it.
- LOUISIANA YOUTH ORCHESTRA: Gift Adikema, viola; Andres Aguilar, percussion; Erik Aguillard, French horn; Samir Alem, trumpet; Khalil Appleton, viola; Sam Ard, percussion; Terence Arthur, trumpet; Meagan Ashley, clarinet; Joseph Babineaux, trumpet; Barrington Becnel, trumpet; Nathan Bourque, bass; Christine Brignac, flute; William Brooks, violin; Marika Buchholz, clarinet; Jude Bumgardner, trombone; Tucker Campbell, percussion; Ethan Casiello, trumpet; Sara Cheney. violin; Abby Cohen, percussion; Eli Cohen, cello; Ethan Collins, tenor sax; Seth Collins, trombone; Elizabeth Copeland, violin; Heather Dickinson, oboe; Joshua Domino, tuba; Jonathan Dumas, violin; John Aaron Durham, violin; Adelyn Foto, viola; Gaylyn Foto, cello; Katelyn Foto, violin; Denesia Freeman, viola; Miranda Gaupp, tenor sax; Deborah Goppelt, harp; Charlene Guilliams, clarinet; Chelsea Hager, clarinet; Connor Hall, bass; Eric Han, violin; Misty Hayes, cello; Sebastian Homa, cello; Phoenix Hwaung, flute; Yuehui Ji, violin; Kevin Jin, violin; Josie Jolibois, clarinet; Zoe Jones, harp; Eva Kennedy, violin; Amelie Kharey, clarinet; Ryan Lachney, viola; Daniel Law, oboe; Tyler LeBourgeois, percussion; Janice Lucek, violin; Andrew Lukachick, violin; Eric Macarios, bassoon; Skyler Matusicky, cello; Daniel McKnight, percussion; Alex Miller, clarinet; Olivia Moppert, viola; Anna Morris, violin; William Morvant, flute; Mary Mullen, French horn; Joshua Nabatilan, cello; Cameron Normand, bass; Michael Nygaard, violin; Beth Odom, percussion; Cameron Otts, oboe; Katie Park, flute; Nick Rains, horn; Emily Reese, violin; LaCarlton Ross Jr., bass; Caroline Samuels, bass; John Edward Schwartzenburg, violin; Sawyer Scott, alto sax; Leila Shammout, violin; Jeremy Shepherd, tuba; Chris Shin, flute; Brennan Simmons, French horn; Hyungie Sung, violin; Zoe Swarzenski, violin; Ben Taylor, violin; Tori Taylor, violin; Marcus Tiner, violin; Justin Vance, bass; Bethany Wilhelm, flute; Benjamin Wiseman, bassoon; Omer Wolff, French horn; Doris Xu, violin; Jenny Zhang, violin.
- LOUISIANA JUNIOR YOUTH ORCHESTRA: Alex Acosta, violin; Morris Arena, trumpet; Morgan “Connor” Banta, French horn; Gena Bergeron, clarinet; Tyler Browning, French horn; Erina Buchholz, violin; Marika Buchholz, clarinet; Claire Bullock, violin; Rebekah Burns, flute; Beatriz Carmona, violin; Seth Collins, trombone; Anna Daigle, cello; Bailey Dettmer, violin; Matt Gallant, sax; Allison Gendron, sax; Ben Groover, bass; Sebastian Hanet, viola; Carol Hou, violin; Nymph Hwaung, clarinet; Anna Jang, violin; Colton Johnson, trombone; Michaela Kearney, flute; Luc Kharey, cello; Eugene Kim, violin; Jennifer Lee, violin; Nick Lipscomb, clarinet; Nancy Liu, violin; Bill Long, violin; Dyllan Maniscalco, tuba; Michael Martinez, trumpet; Shona McCullogh, tuba; Mallory McDaniel, flute; Benny Meltzer, cello; Erin Palisi, oboe; Hannah Park, violin; Sean Parker, cello; Jacob Pettigrew, trumpet; Elle Pickrell, viola; Mark Postlethwait, violin; Julia Power, cello; Nicholas Roland, violin; Marisa Russo, flute; Abigail Sands, cello; Waleed Shammout, sax; Brandon Shittone, trumpet; Daniel Tsilis, trumpet; David Tsilis, percussion; Alexandre Van Biersel, violin; Delena Van Valkenburg, violin; Stephen Watson, violin; Meredyth Yorek, violin; Cole Young, cello; Ningyin Zhao, cello; Cindy Zhuang, violin.
- LOUISIANA YOUTH STRING ENSEMBLE: Abigail Becnel, violin; Sydney Boudreaux, violin; Savannah Callaway, violin; Sierra Charles, violin; Aaron Cheng, violin; Brennan Davis, violin; Connor Davis, violin; Emery Gischler, violin; Matthew Gravois, violin; Noah Hawkins, violin; Madeline Hou, violin; Bona Jeng, violin; Yena Jang, violin; Cassie Kennedy, violin; Danny Kim, cello; Rachel Liles, violin; Paul Loup, violin; Esther Luo, violin; Matthew McGibney, violin; Adeline Roemer, violin; Dayne Salassi, violin; Katherine Scarton, violin; Anna Sloan, cello; Aubrey Smallhorn, violin; Amelie Smith, viola; Emory Templet, violin; Jason Wang, violin; Michael Woolverton, cello; Greyson Yorek, viola.