Posting Date: February 20, 2009
The Georgia Youth Symphony Orchestra: A partnership with the arts
By Gina Gareri-Watkins
Vans and SUVs pull into the traffic circle outside of the Dr. Bailey & Family Performance Center at Kennesaw State University. Car doors slide open and hatchbacks flip up. Teenagers pile out to retrieve bulky gear and carry it inside the building through a side door, while even more transfer heavy loads to vehicles and drive away. Some students wait outside of the building, text messaging on cell phones or talking to one another. The dedicated young musicians of the Georgia Youth Symphony Orchestra arrive from all over the Atlanta area every Sunday afternoon to practice under the direction of Michael Alexander, orchestra director at KSU and music director of the Cobb Symphony Orchestra.
Founded by the CSO in 2006, GYSO was based on the idea that students should have an opportunity to create a lifelong partnership with the arts as both current performers and as future supporters. With 350 members, GYSO is currently the largest youth orchestra program in the southeast. GYSO hopes to soon increase its membership to 500 or more with the inclusion of a choral program. “The numbers are pretty staggering, as some come from over an hour away to practice,” says Alexander. “We have one performer who comes from the North Carolina border.”
These talented student musicians range in age from elementary to high school, and are selected through a competitive audition process. Students admitted into the program can expect a nurturing and supportive environment conducive to their musical development while performing at the highest level of their abilities.
Comprised of nine ensembles, GYSO has two full orchestras, two string orchestras, two wind ensembles, a jazz ensemble, a percussion ensemble and a chamber music program. The symphony orchestra is the most advanced orchestral ensemble in the program, and its musicians enjoy opportunities to perform traditional chamber music, as well as new works and collaborations with guest artists. A professional in his or her respective field leads each ensemble and the ensemble presents a full season of concerts every year.
“GYSO performances cover all the great orchestral repertoires, plus all those pieces appropriate for the various ensembles,” explains Alexander. Now in residence at KSU, the GYSO is allowed access to not only a state-of-the art concert facility, but the many talented professional musicians and educators who call KSU’s School of Music their instructional home. Students have performed with KSU instructors Helen Kim on violin, Catherine Lynn on viola, Douglass Sommer on bass, Christina Smith on flute, and John Lawless on percussion. With such performance opportunities, it is no surprise that these young musicians give up Sundays for practice at KSU.
GYSO strives to provide students with a comprehensive music experience and a personal mission of supporting the arts. “It’s really great to see the kids get excited about music and experience the power to play great repertoire,” says Alexander. “Our goal is to continue to improve the artistic quality of the repertoire, and continue to inspire more students to be passionate about music.”
GYSO has met that goal in Pope High School junior and symphony orchestra cellist, Rachel Halverson. “I like all the people here,” she says. ”Just being able to work with really good players kind of rubs off. I’d like to study in Georgia after graduating high school and then transfer to a conservatory. I’d like to major in music.”