The Importance of The Youth Orchestra

Avatar of Leila Yokoyama

Would it be a far-venturing guess to state that everyone who reads this column knows somebody in a youth orchestra? 

Many of you did mandatorily play an instrument in fourth grade Orchestra class. A few of you trickled through middle school music classes, hanging on to that beloved instrument with the hope that you wouldn’t drop it by high school. Some of you figured out that music is your passion and decided to continue playing that instrument through high school. And perhaps along the way, as teens, you missed playing with other young players so much that you joined a youth orchestra! 

Youth orchestras are one of the greatest ways for young classical musicians to connect and grow through a variety of musical experiences. Some youth orchestras admit musicians through audition, while others do not; some only admit string players, while others are the full symphonic capacity (including winds, brass and percussion). Thousands of teens in California participate in at least one youth orchestra, and although many of them won’t go on to become professional musicians, the mere involvement in such an ensemble is both fun and rewarding. 

The San Francisco Symphony Youth Orchestra (SFSYO) is one of the most rewarding extracurriculars I’ve ever had the opportunity to be involved in. Although I’ve only played viola there for one year, it has been a growing experience and certainly an unforgettable one as well. I’ve once again been reminded that being a musician requires more than just talent, as you must have a strong work ethic and focused attention. Practicing music demands that you pay close attention to details and exercise your problem-solving mindset, so that you have the willpower not to hurl your instrument at the wall in frustration (even though sometimes it is extremely tempting to do so).

On top of these skills, youth orchestras introduce a whole new realm of musicianship. You must be collaborative and work with others, especially if you are asked to play quieter because another section has the “singing melody” that the audience wants to hear, instead of the “enhancing” background music that the composer wrote for you. 

You must be thoughtful of the other members, for you are part of a greater community. Unless you are a soloist with the orchestra, you must learn how to blend in with the collective sound. That literally requires you to relearn what the definition of ‘quiet’ is. For the record, in a large orchestra, “quiet” means almost silent because there are so many more instruments producing “quiet” sounds.

All these things you learn in a youth orchestra are essential for other parts of your life as well. When doing Chemistry homework, activate that same patience and focus you use when you are practicing. Take the collaborative mindset you had when you were working with the second violinists and bring it to your history group project. Recall when your conductor kept you 20 minutes overtime to rehearse 30 seconds of music over and over again, and keep your cool when your English class spills into lunch. 

In an orchestra, you come together with your fellow musicians to create something beautiful and meaningful. You listen to other opinions on how the piece could sound better, and you suggest your own improvements. No matter your personal disagreements with other members, you are working toward the same goal. This lesson applies outside the orchestra as well. Of course you’re going to clash with others in life, but take time to listen to their thoughts and views, and you just might find connections through your differences.