Youth Symphony prides itself on connecting student musicians from across Kansas and Missouri. However, with a global pandemic at the forefront, the flagship orchestral education program had to be completely reconceived. Cue Orchestras Online.
Orchestras Online is Youth Symphony’s first fully online music education program. Musicians meet with conductors every Sunday for music education and guest lectures followed by sectionals with instrument coaches. Student-submitted weekly recordings are compiled by Artistic Director Kirt Mosier to create a full orchestral performance. Sections of these compiled recordings are reviewed in weekly gatherings in order for conductors to provide feedback to students on how to practice and best record their assignments for the coming weeks.
In addition to keeping students musically engaged, another benefit of an online program was discovered: Musicians normally unable to make the weekly commute to Kansas City were able to participate thanks to technology. August Siefkes and Norah Stone are two of those students.
August Siefkes, a 10th grade percussionist from Hudson, Kan. had heard about Youth Symphony from a family member who served on the organization’s board for years.
“When I heard that the Youth Symphony was fully online this year I thought, ‘Whoa! I can totally do this!’ I was super excited to be able to participate in an outstanding musical group for an entire school year instead of just for a weekend, like most of the honor ensembles I’ve participated in,” Siefkes said.
Siefkes is a member of PercussionKC, Youth Symphony’s new advanced percussion ensemble. Percussionists convene via video conference with director Clif Walker where they learn advanced techniques and study ensemble repertoire. Walker is a noted percussion pedagogue, the director of the University of Missouri Drumline, a percussion staff member with The Cavaliers Drum and Bugle Corps and adjunct faculty at Missouri Western State University. It is his first year with Youth Symphony.
Siefkes has enjoyed the opportunity to go beyond rehearsing and learn more about music theory and performance.
“One thing that has surprised me about Orchestras Online is how much time we spend talking and learning about things that apply to one piece but can also be applied to every other piece we do. We take more time learning the pieces for Youth Symphony. I also like how we can spend more time talking about technique, style, and learning strategies.”
Norah Stone, an 11th grade cellist from Columbia, Mo. was drawn to the Youth Symphony program by the prospect of working with Symphony Orchestra conductors Kirt Mosier and Steven D. Davis.
“It is different from my school program because the Youth Symphony has time in sectionals and for whole group instruction while my school program is only everyone at once. It is very structured and well laid out with certainty [about] what is to be rehearsed and learned each week,” Stone said.
While weekly group sessions and sectionals make up the bulk of the program, Orchestras Online also features two virtual concerts. Performances from the first semester were premiered on New Year’s Day 2021 and the final concert will premiere on Sunday, April 18. With performances relying on technology and editing, Stone was unsure how the recordings would turn out.
“I was also surprised at how amazing the recording sounded with everyone in their respective homes. Mr. Mosier did a wonderful job with it!”
With vaccine distribution increasing and virus infection rates dropping, Youth Symphony plans to host in-person rehearsals in the Fall of 2021. This will be welcome news for many, but some will miss the online program.
“I have a limited number of musical opportunities out here in rural Central Kansas. Youth Symphony allows me to play with a group that I couldn’t find out here. If Youth Symphony goes back to in-person next year, I would gladly drive four hours one way to rehearsal every Sunday. That’s how much I love Youth Symphony. I really want Youth Symphony to continue in such a way that allows me, and others like me, to participate in this phenomenal group,” Siefkes said.
Watch Youth Symphony’s New Year’s Day Concert now, on-demand, at YSKC.org and save the date for the Spring Concert on Sunday, April 18 at 2 p.m., streaming on Facebook and YSKC.org.