Talented teens get a taste of professional musicianship in the Saginaw Bay Youth Orchestra.
There is a certain magic in the split second an orchestra shifts from the chaos and tumult of the players warming their bows and valves, their fingers running through tricky phrases, to the concertmaster laying the pitch, the ensemble joining and adjusting their tones until the orchestra congeals into one note, one entity.
For young musicians in the Great Lakes Bay Region, the Saginaw Bay Youth Orchestra (SBYO) is the cauldron necessary to cast such a musical spell.
“It’s the coming together of kids who like to [play] music, who want to be part of a bigger thing,” says Anna Leppert-Largent, director of education for the Saginaw Bay Symphony Orchestra (SBSO). “It’s the fellowship. The students are able to connect with kids they would otherwise never meet.”
The SBYO, made up of musicians from middle and high schools across the Great Lakes Bay Region and the Thumb, assembles for three sessions during each performance season. During Sunday rehearsals, students practice as a full orchestra before and after breaking into individual sections, where they receive specialized instruction from SBYO staff. Sessions conclude with a concert at Saginaw’s historic Temple Theatre.
“The music we play is not something geared toward young people; the music is the same as what the regular orchestra plays,” says SBSO Executive Director Dan McGee.
The youth orchestra has existed in its current form since 2007, when the SBSO administration committed to providing a program that would better serve its students and the community. A newly-formed steering committee quickly adopted stronger recruitment strategies to find talented, motivated students.
“We were more dedicated and intense about going out and getting the kids [to participate in the program],” says Leppert-Largent.
Recruitment now consists of an elaborate publicity campaign using the region’s media outlets, as well as outreach to local private instructors and schools, both with and without orchestra or band programs of their own.
“The kids do a good job of recruiting, too,” says Leppert-Largent.
The 2013-14 season of the youth orchestra included a special side-by-side performance, in which students performed beside members of the adult SBSO.
“We’ve had a lot of response from students, letting us know what a great experience that [concert] was. It made them all better players,” says McGee.
The concert was the first of its kind in the SBSO’s 78-year history, but not the last. Leppert-Largent hopes the logistically-intense performances can be held once every few years, so that long-term youth orchestra members can expect to play a side-by-side concert at least once.
In the last four years, the SBSO has added additional programs to prepare even younger musicians for the youth orchestra and beyond. Beginning Strings is for second- to sixth-graders learning to play violin, viola, and cello. The Intermediate Strings Ensemble is for students who are beyond a beginner level, but not advanced enough for the SBYO.
“It’s really fun to see the looks [on] the kids’ faces the first time they step onto the stage at the Temple Theatre,” says Leppert-Largent.
“We’d like the youth orchestra to be a life-altering experience,” McGee says. “If students don’t go into music, we would like them, wherever they land, to come back to attend a performance [and] be part of an audience.”
In other words, the SBYO aims to keep the magic of music alive for a long time.