The Youth Orchestra of Greater Columbus exists "to teach young people about music, and to provide the opportunity for young instrumentalists to have the highest quality musical experience in an orchestral setting." This week, they'll achieve both of these goals by providing one of the most profound musical experiences they can offer their students: the ability to perform as members of a professional orchestra.
On Saturday evening, YOGC's top students will take the stage in Bill Heard Theatre with the Columbus Symphony Orchestra to perform a concert of opera and ballet repertoire. These "side-by-side" are a vital part of YOGC's educational structure for their students, and happen every other year with the CSO.
To learn more about this week's concert and the educational purposes behind it, we sat down with Stephanie Payne. Payne is the Executive Director for YOGC, a professional musician, and a local supporter of the arts. Continue reading to hear why Payne is passionate about local students playing classical music, the benefit she's seen her students gain from performing with professional musicians, and how she believes educational opportunities like these will impact her students' futures.
Stephanie Payne, Executive Director for the Youth Orchestra of Greater Columbus.
Q: How did these side-by-side concerts get started?
A: I'm not sure I know the history because it started before I came to YOGC. These side-by-side concerts with the CSO historically happen every other year. I believe the idea was initially born out of a joint collaboration between Jim Palmer and George (Del Gobbo). That's probably how it got started.
When we put children in an environment where they are put on the same level with professionals, it changes their outlook completely. We're putting these kids next to professional musicians playing the same music as them, and that reinforces that they are important. They're talented, they matter, and what they're doing is good.
I don't think it matters how long a program has been going on, as long as it's effective. So many people want to say, "Oh this is new! It's awesome and innovative." But I really think that there is a lot of room in communities for projects that have a longevity that is positive and beneficial. This is one of those programs.
Q: How do you find that the side-by-side concerts impact your students?
A: They leave the stage starry eyed. It's really important to all of us at YOGC that our students perform on Bill Heard Stage as often as possible. We remind them as much as we can that they are important enough to be there - that it's a really good thing for them to play on the same stage as the CSO.
After each of the concerts, our students come away starstruck. We hear feedback from them like, "Wow. That was amazing." We remind them that it is a privilege that they earn.
Q: How does the music get chosen for these concerts?
A: George does a phenomenal job of selecting the music. He makes sure it is achievable while still giving our students the same music as the professional musicians. These are not watered down parts. The only thing we do for them is transpose parts.
We borrow all of the music from the symphony's library. CSO just played Hoe Down at their Wild, Wild West concert. The kids are playing the same music they played. We're not giving them a break at all. It's important to us that they learn what it takes to be a professional musician, what it looks like to be in the big leagues, what it's like to be an adult on stage playing as a professional.
George is hilarious and amazing. His rehearsal personality is great because he does a wonderful job between the stricter union professional orchestral rehearsal policies - which he still sticks to, because the musicians deserve that - but also, he ensures that he is nurturing enough that our students get the experience that the need. Because of George, we're able to provide an experience that doesn't throw them in the deep end, but allows them to stick their toes in a bit and gain an understanding of how the professional orchestral rehearsal and performance processes work.
Image courtesy of YOGC.
Q: So you're saying that Del Gobbo's rehearsal method is conducive both to professionals and students because he makes the allowances they need, but not in an obvious way?
A: Exactly. They are seated in the orchestra. They're onstage in the orchestra as ensemble members. The only way you can tell who's who, is by their ages. We make sure that each YOGC student has at least one professional musician sitting next to them.
Q: That's amazing. What an incredible auditory experience for them as well.
A: Yes. They are hearing everything from inside the ensemble, versus seating them as their own sections beside or behind the symphony. Putting them in the mix is helpful for so many reasons- one of which is that they can get the full experience from the inside.
Q: What ages will perform on this concert?
A: This concert only features our oldest ensemble. That is just for space reasons, and also because our younger children aren't quite ready for this music. There's nothing wrong with that, they're just younger.
The ensemble performing with the CSO this week is mostly made up of high schoolers. We do have a select few middle schoolers in there as well.
Q: Is that an auditioned group?
A: Every student auditions to be a part of YOGC. For our string players, it is a placement audition only. For the woodwinds, brass, and percussion, it is competitive.
Q: Why is that?
A: Because you just can't have twenty flutes. As much as I personally would love that, it's not how it works. (Laughing)
Q: From your personal perspective as the Executive Director and a professional musician yourself, how have you seen your YOGC students benefit from these side-by-side concerts with the CSO?
A: It's opening their eyes to a wider reality. There is a lot of culture to "getting a real job." And while there's nothing wrong with that, for our students that are really passionate about music, it's a great opportunity for them to see that there are local professional musicians making a living playing their instruments. I want to encourage our students to do that if they can. Now, I want to be realistic with them as well.
Mr. Palmer and I have very real conversations with our students about what it takes to become a professional musician. It is difficult to do, but it can be done. All of us who are involved are living proof of that, and we also illustrate that there are many, many different ways to do it. Our students see professional musicians who are performers, educators, and arts administrators every day. It's giving them the opportunity to see a real person who is making a living working in music. And that it's okay. It's wonderful. And I think that's a powerful, powerful lesson to give them anytime we can.
If You Go:
What: Not the Same Old Song & Dance (YOGC Performs Side-by-Side w/ CSO)
When: 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, January 12
Where: Bill Heard Theatre, RiverCenter for the Performing Arts