The Jacksonville Symphony Youth Orchestra (JSYO) has delighted the community with another spectacular season. With more than 350 talented musicians from all over Northeast Florida, the JSYO consists of six levels of ensembles, two full symphonies, and four levels of string ensembles that are all differentiated through their repertoire and level of expertise. Each concert in the season is designed so the various ensembles perform pieces that are both rewarding and challenging.
The JSYO’s Winter Concert on February 27 gave students the opportunity to perform a well-known repertoire found in the orchestral world. Conductor Rose Francis kicked off the performance with the Foundation Strings ensemble, an orchestra for advancing beginner musicians recent to orchestral playing, performing Todd Parish’s Atlantis. In the following section, Conductor Helen Morin guided the Encore Strings, a string orchestra for intermediate level musicians who are several years into study, through Sweet New Moon in Yukiko Nishimura’s “Encore Strings” and other prized works. Finally, Miron passed the baton to JSYO Music Director Daniel Wiley to spotlight the Repertory and the Philharmonic Orchestra. These groups have intermediate, advanced, and pre-professional musicians. Wiley says that out of all their pieces, Repertory students enjoyed playing Overture to The Bronze Horse for its “very tongue-in-cheek” quality. The Philharmonic loved playing Omar Thomas’s Of Our New Day Begun and Dmitri Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 5 for the way both provide commentary on overcoming adversity.
Thereafter, the Major/Minor performance on May 3 was one to remember as the students in Repertory and Philharmonic were given the opportunity to play alongside symphony musicians and get a glimpse of the futures lying before them. Wiley remarks, “It’s an incredible opportunity. When a young musician sits next to a professional musician it’s as if they act like a sponge. Posture, attention to detail, and sound production all radically change. It is quite interesting to see how much students absorb by simply watching, listening, and playing with people who are at such an incredibly high caliber.” Audience members could see the learning process in motion as the students would tune into their professional counterparts and gain new knowledge, one note at a time.
Lastly, the final concert of the season ended in a celebration with the Festival of Strings, a concert geared towards the younger string ensembles, so they could learn to perform in a concert setting. While all the students typically rehearse for eight to ten weeks to prepare for these concerts, Wiley says that performing “is a mix of joy, nerves, and introspection. The joy is founded on the friendships made and the ability to play great music. Nerves come from learning how to walk onto a stage and perform. Introspection happens when we explore the variety of emotional contexts that composers write for us.” From a young age, these students are encouraged to step outside the bounds of what’s comfortable and learn lessons from music that go far beyond the stage.
JSYO’s mission is to provide musical avenues for all students by offering a variety of other opportunities for young musicians to grow. Some areas of support include need-based scholarships and free, after-school programs such as Communities In Schools of Jacksonville. Wiley notes that the purpose of JSYO is “not to create droves of professional musicians (though some students in JSYO will certainly go on to become professional musicians) but rather to build more thoughtful, aware, compassionate young adults. We use orchestral music as a conduit to help better understand preparation, discipline, and the human experience. If a composer who lived 200 years ago can write music that we viscerally feel as tragic or joyous, that music can help us better understand those emotions in our own lives.” As music tells the story of our lives, students create their future stories with JSYO.