Outside the sun is scorching, in spite of the breeze that blows through the Converse College campus. Fortunately, though, Twichell Auditorium is air-conditioned, and the young brass players of the Charlotte Symphony Youth Orchestra are oblivious to the August heat as they work through a difficult passage of Grieg’s Norwegian Dance.
The musicians of the CSYO are attending the orchestra’s annual summer camp, sponsored by The Symphony Guild, gearing up for a new season of music-making. Mornings are dedicated to full orchestra rehearsals; after lunch, the students divide into sections, led by members of the Charlotte Symphony.
Last Thursday afternoon in the lobby of Twichell Auditorium, CSO Principal Tubist David Mills was warning the trumpets to make way for the horns: “There’s something that comes right after you, so hit that note and get out of the way.” Inside the auditorium, CSO Principal Timpanist Leo Soto was teaching a student about the power of pianissimo. With his ear down, his whole body alert to sound, Leo caused a magical shimmer to arise from the drums. The effervescent sound made the hairs on my arm stand up, and demonstrated to his young protégé that you can command as much attention with that hush as with a resounding thunder.
The appointment of Gustavo Dudamel as Music Director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic has brought spectacular national attention to Venezuela’s youth orchestra system and the philosophy of its founder José Antonio Abreu. Abreu’s system is building amazing orchestras, but he aspires to accomplish much more: He maintains that orchestras build community, create good citizens, because the varied members of an orchestra come together for the common good – to perform great music.
At youth orchestra camp, the members of the CSYO are experiencing this first-hand, all day, every day. “It’s great doing music all day,” said flutist Sarah Sullivan, a rising senior at North Meck High School, earlier that afternoon. “You’d think you’d get tired of it, but it’s really fun. It’s really a relaxed atmosphere – everyone is open and willing to get to know each other.”
And the students are doing more than music all day. They’re getting music lessons, but they’re also getting lessons in life. Like David Mills’s comment to the trumpets: Be respectful of others’ space and time. Or Leo Soto’s demonstration: Listen, focus, be precise, and remember that you do not need to yell to be heard.
“In sectionals and in the full orchestra, you realize that you have to listen,” oboist Michael Smith, a rising senior at Providence High School, told me during a break from sectionals. “It’s a great mantra for a community, because if you’re not listening to other people in a community, how can ideas be shared?”
“They say music is the universal language,” Elizabeth Honeyman agreed. Elizabeth is a junior at Peabody – a CSYO alum who has come back to lead the oboes. “But you have to learn how to work with others; you have to learn when to lead and when to follow. You connect to everyone else. What you do on your own is not nearly so important as what you do when you link into everyone else.”
And when these students “link into everyone else,” they look for unity among the differences, another CSYO alum, Loren Taylor, added.
“It’s like a family; if there is any conflict, it’s like sibling rivalry. Coming together like a family is what makes people in the youth orchestra better citizens – contribute to society. We’re building something together. Even if you’re in a lower chair, your part is still contributing to the whole.”
Meg Whalen is the Director of Public Relations and Community Engagement.