National Youth Orchestras 2022

Marty Steiner • FeaturesJune 2022 • June 15, 2022

Franklin Pond students receive expert coaching.

Carnegie Hall’s Weill Music Institute announced their rosters for the National Youth Orchestra-USA (NYO) for 16- to 19-year-old musicians and NYO2 for younger musicians, 14 to 17. The 109 for the older group and 81 for the younger were selected from hundreds of applicants through an audition process. The NYO group come from 34 states while 27 states and Puerto Rico are represented in NYO2. In addition, a NYO-Jazz group was also selected.

Both orchestras will assemble at the campus of Purchase College, State University of New York for a three-week residency time of sectional and full orchestra rehearsals, repertoire related workshops as well as recreational activities. After a concert at Carnegie Hall, the NYO will embark on a European concert tour.

The NYO2 is an intensive summer residency orchestra training program that particularly focuses on recruiting young musicians from underrepresented and underserved communities. They are provided with classical music exposure and performance opportunities. The NYO2 concludes its program with a Carnegie Hall concert. 

SBO set out to explore what contributed to these young musicians being selected. What school programs, community programs, music educator associations, and other support groups generate this high level of musical accomplishment?

The NYO roster yielded some interesting patterns. The greater Atlanta area had placed six young musicians in this national orchestra. Five of these are members of the Atlanta Symphony Youth Orchestra (ASYO). Two of these ASYO musicians are also members of the Emory (University) Youth Symphony Orchestra with yet another a participant in the Franklin Pond Chamber Music group. One of these ASYO musicians also participated in a second Atlanta Symphony program, the symphony’s Talent Development Program. All of these are after-school programs.

The professional Atlanta Symphony Orchestra is committed to and heavily involved in community youth music education. Their programs include Music for the Very Young for toddler through early elementary-age children and their parents. The program is delivered in two formats, a virtual four-week series and a nine week in-person series. Concerts for Young People is designed for children in elementary grades 5 through 6 and, this year, combines classical music and science in a multimedia concert setting. The other in-person concert series introduces music composition that features Atlanta-based composers. The ASO is creating a Level Up in collaboration with the Georgia Music Educators Association (GMEA). 

The Atlanta Symphony Youth Orchestra (ASYO) was founded in 1974 by Atlanta’s professional Symphony Orchestra to provide performance experience in orchestral masterworks to young musicians. Today, more than 300 students in eighth through twelfth grades have  auditions to be part of the 2022 orchestra. 

The ASO’s Talent Development Program provides music education to twenty-five young Black and Latinx music students each year. As a diversity offering, it supplements the range of other ASO educational offerings. Fellows of this program are provided weekly private lessons with an ASO musician, assistance with audition preparation, technical and performance juried sessions and one-on-one mentoring.

Atlanta’s Metropolitan Youth Symphony Orchestra (MYSO) is now in its 33rd season offering “the most talented young musicians” sectional coaching, solo and ensemble training along with full symphony performances. The symphony orchestra generally focuses on high school musicians and the Philharmonia Orchestra draws from middle school and early high school. This year a sinfonietta is being offered for the youngest string players. MYSO also offers college scholarship assistance.

MYSO’s new executive director, Megan Williams, may be typical of the talent and background of the administrative side of these community music education resources. While she did study clarinet and was in her school’s band, she was drawn to administration. 

Emory Youth Symphony Orchestra in rehearsal.

The Emory University Symphony Orchestra (EYSO) offers and supports the Emory Youth Symphony Orchestras, founded in 2005 as a pre-college music education program. In addition to orchestral performance opportunities, students and their parents are provided with pre-college counseling, assistance with college and scholarship applications, diverse master-classes and seminars and financial aid advice. 

Franklin Pond Chamber Music educates young musicians through the art of classical chamber music. There is an emphasis on diversity and inclusion in the selection of the student musicians from grades six through twelve. Ensembles are established with students of similar capability. Their Fall Into Spring program parallels the school year, September through May. This program provides a minimum of eight coaching sessions with Atlanta Symphony and Opera professionals, two master classes with nationally-recognized artists and two performances. The Summer Intensive Program, from June through August, includes twice a week coaching, weekly master classes, a four-day retreat at a college campus and numerous community performances.

Franklin Pond also offers an annual chamber music competition for middle and high school chamber ensembles from across Georgia. Preliminary rounds are by video recordings and finals performed live before judges at a local area college. 

GMEA includes an orchestra division. Like many MEA’s, this division presents an audition-based all-state orchestra at the annual in-service conference. Other programs are orchestra-focused versions of the standard GMEA offerings.

What role does an in-school program have in the development of potential NYO musicians? Looking at the Atlanta area’s NYO musicians, violinist Tobias Liu, 17, is a student at Atlanta’s private, and well regarded, Westminster School. Just prior to the NYO selection announcements, Westminster had placed 25 instrumentalists including Liu in the GMEA All-State Orchestra. Nineteen of these were middle school students. This was the most of any school in the entire state.

Bria Rives, bass, is currently a junior at the Fayette County (Georgia) High School and is a member of that school’s orchestra. She previously was a member of her middle school orchestra. This is Rives’ second year in the NYO. In many public-school systems across the country, orchestra programs are rare and only receive minimal support. In Fayette County in-school orchestra programs are actively supported.  

Lafayette High School in Lexington, Kentucky has six orchestras. This comprehensive program produced Brennen Taggart, another of the NYO bass musicians. The mission of his high school’s orchestra program is, “to develop in each student an appreciation of our inherited musical culture, to teach techniques of musical expression, to discover and develop the talents of students in all styles of music, to develop knowledge and skills in listening, reading and performing at a high artistic level.” Lafayette High School is also home to a Tri-M (Modern Music Masters) international honorary music society chapter. This organization requires membership in the school’s orchestra with 4.0 grade in music as well as an overall GPA of 3.0. Every middle and high school in Kentucky’s Fayette County school system has an orchestra program. In addition, every elementary school teaches general music through the fifth grade with individual instrumental instruction in the sixth grade. In reflecting on Taggart’s accomplishments, Phil Kent, director of orchestras, shared, “Brennan is one of those students that only come along once or twice in a teaching career!” Another component of Taggart’s development is the Central Kentucky Youth Orchestra. Like many other MEA’s, the Kentucky group supports in-school orchestra programs and produces an All-State Orchestra in conjunction with their annual in-service conference, Kentucky also offers a unique Governor’s School for the Arts that includes instrumental music as a focus. This three-week summer program for high school sophomores and juniors is held at the University of Kentucky in Lexington.

What SBO learned is the existence of multiple forms of music education and opportunities all play a part in developing outstanding young musicians. This is especially true when these resources collaborate and cooperate wherever possible. Most of these education and support systems for advanced and talented young musicians function with annual audition requirements. This audition experience alone provides an education and produces an additional experiential learning process.

What can be learned from the development of this year’s NYO and NYO2 young musicians? Is there a vibrant orchestra program in your local schools? Why not? Is there any community youth orchestra or chamber music program available? Why not? Does your state MEA support orchestra development? Why not? Do you have a Bria Rives, or a Brennen Taggart, or other NYO or NYO2 musician in your area? No? That may be why not.

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