Playing in a real symphony-after your homework is done
Boston — It's an orchestra where the members practice after their homework is done. And you wouldn't recognize any of the names - unless, of course, you happen to be one of their parents, charged with getting them to rehearsals.
It is the Greater Boston Youth Symphony Orchestra, one of several across the country giving young people a chance to practice with a larger and more professional group than they can at their local schools.
GBYSO is composed not only of youngsters who drummed to the sound of Mozart in their cribs, but of those who have had a harder row to hoe in the quest to perform classical music. Composed of youngsters between the ages of 12 and 17, the orchestra itself is actually a two-headed creature, because there's also the repertory orchestra - 100 members strong - which is the training ground for the senior orchestra - also composed of 100 members - the veterans of GBYSO.
During it's 23 years of youthful competition with the Boston Symphony Orchestra, GBYSO has performed at Carnegie Hall in New York, Symphony Hall in Boston, and in 1962 at the White House. Its members have at varies times been to Colombia, Israel, and Europe.
Says Leonard Atherton, musical director and conductor of the senior orchestra , ''One of the things I enjoy is seeing the students register a piece of music. I enjoy the freshness they bring to their musicmaking and their sense of discovery - because they're finding out things for the first time.''
But playing for GBYSO involves more than just hearing crowds applaud skillful performances. Behind all this comes discipline. It represents hours spent in solitary practice in one's room, as the distant noise of schoolmates enjoying other pursuits drifts through the window. It's also spending most of Sunday afternoon in the music rooms of Boston University (without whose sponsorship none of this would be possible).
Homework, too, is in the competition. ''It seems that a majority of them do extremely well in school, probably because they have to concentrate on getting their work done within a specified time period because of all their other activities,'' remarks Mr. Atherton.
Playing for GBYSO can add a helpful rung on the ladder to being a professional performer. Most members, though, don't plan to earn a living at making classical music, but still find the GBYSO experience a valuable one.
For violinist Renee Jacksy, playing with GBYSO ''helps me listen to people.'' That's because, she says, she must listen so carefully to what the other members of the orchestra are doing with their instruments.
Bassoonist David Silva comments that he has learned how to function better in a group, and adds, ''This is a hobby that I'll enjoy the rest of my life, even though I'm not going to be a professional musician.''
Satisfying though it may be for GBYSO officials to shepherd these young talents, the organization wasn't complete until last year, when they added a string ensemble.
But the words ''string ensemble'' can hardly describe the spirit of this new group. It's composed of about 20 inner-city youngsters whose chance to play classical music were virtually nonexistent until now.
According to Kate Kruschwitz, manager of GBYSO, ''The affluent suburbs that can afford good music programs tend to produce the musicians who are really able to join GBYSO. Our enrollment from inner-city Boston (in the senior orchestra and the repertory) is very low.''
Because of this, the ensemble was formed. It gives lessons and lets kids perform who otherwise couldn't afford to. Most have little and are younger than their counterparts on the two orchestras.
''It's a beginning for a lot of these kids, remarks Marilyn Seelman, director and conductor of the inner-city music program. ''Some of them have never had the opportunity to play in a chamber orchestra sized group. We're trying to establish standards and get these kids to the point where they'll be able to successfully audition for the repertory orchestra and later the senior orchestra.''
The parents are particularly supportive. Many remain throughout the reheasals to listen to their children play.
''You know,'' she said, ''that these youngsters and their families don't have much money. But they're dressed for rehearsals as if they're ready for church.''
It's a challenge for youngsters, Ms. Seelman says. ''Just holding an instrument up for two hours or being in a rehearsal for two hours is a discipline they've never had before. When you're 12 or 11 and you're in the inner city, playing the violin is not exactly the most popular thing to do.''
The results, though, have been very satisfying. ''From where the group began last year to where it began this year, is phenomenal.'' One of the ensemble members has already moved into the repertory orchestra and several more are almost ready.
''My job,'' Ms. Seelman says, ''is to keep them enthusiastic while at the same time building standards. I don't like complacency and I want them to keep thinking, to keep trying to be better. It's a hard thing to do - a combination of pushing and pulling. A lot of it is intuitive.''
''Success builds success. You start from the simplest point where they feel good and then you build.''
Ms. Seelman adds ''It gives them choices. The biggest gift I can give is a choice. I don't like being limited and I don't want them to be limited.''
Funding GBYSO and its several accompanying groups isn't easy, especially since government funding for many of these arts programs, asserts Ms. Kruschwitz , has virtually evaporated.
GBYSO, though, has been cushioned by continued support from Boston University and grants from corporations. Careful financial management, claims Ms. Kruschwitz, has helped keep the orchestra out of some money troubles that have hurt other organizations.
Ms. Kruschwitz remarks, however, that GBYSO may be indirectly affected by financial austerity if shrunken community music programs produce fewer prospects for the orchestra.