The pull and passion for music can begin early. Some quit and substitute other interests; others keep on.
Matthew Blanchard, a senior at Boiling Springs High School, a tubist and singer, discovered his musical passion upon attending a concert performed by the Harrisburg Symphony Youth Orchestra (HSYO) when he was in eighth grade.
“I was amazed by how professional the kids looked and sounded,” Blanchard recalled. “I also thought it would be amazing to play my tuba in the Forum. I was hooked immediately.”
Blanchard’s seat will be right on stage this month when the HSYO presents its annual Mother’s Day concert at the Forum in Harrisburg. The orchestra is also celebrating a special milestone this year: the 65th anniversary of the first HSYO performance.
“In 2004, as part of the Harrisburg Symphony Orchestra’s 75th anniversary celebration, a book was written chronicling the orchestra’s history,” says Mark Hunsberger, director of education, who began playing music in fourth grade. “In that book, the author, Cornelius A. Rodgers, recognized the HSYO as one of the 10-oldest in the country.”
That year, the youth symphony boasted 88 student members from 25 different public, private and home schools. It has now grown to more than 160 student musicians from 45 different public, private and home schools. There are currently two ensembles—one for middle school and one for high school.
“Those numbers alone speak not only to the sustainability of music education here in central PA, but to the growth of the music education communities which HSYO serves,” Hunsberger said.
While Blanchard was inspired by attending a performance, 12th-grader Julia Duvall, a violinist with the HSYO, said that hers started at the age of 3 due to an educational toy.
“I had a LeapFrog tablet that came with a classical music track,” Duval said. “I was obsessed with listening to different composers and playing with an interactive violin featured on the device.”
Range of Interests
HSYO has opened many opportunities for its young musicians and provided a professional atmosphere that teaches lessons going far beyond the intricacies of the music itself.
For Duvall, performing new and exciting compositions has further developed her musical skills. She is also a two-time winner of a scholarship that allowed her to attend “Summer at SEM Creative Arts” at Wyoming Seminary in Kingston, Pa., an international summer program for serious students of music, theater and dance.
“This program impacts these students on a number of levels, many of which have nothing to do with actual music making,” says Greg Woodbridge, HSYO’s music director. “Music is merely the vehicle through which they foster friendships, community and numerous skills they’ll use throughout life outside of music. At the very least, we hope to be building future audiences and educated music consumers through exposure to high-quality orchestral literature.”
According to Woodbridge, who began playing piano at 7 years old and took up the violin at the age of 9, HSYO musicians learn about belonging to a performing ensemble and how to play their instruments with a group, as opposed to playing alone.
“Because of the many activities outside of the orchestra in which students participate, they must have good time management skills,” he said.
Indeed, both Blanchard and Duvall have interests that take up other precious minutes of their days. Blanchard sings bass in the Boiling Springs Chorus and has participated in district and regional choral festivals. He also plays bass trombone in his school’s jazz band and Messiah College’s jazz band. He is president of the Fly Fishing Club at his high school and works at a fishing and tackle shop.
Duvall’s hobbies include yoga, baking and reading.
Despite their busy lives, HSYO’s Mother’s Day concert is a source of excitement for the two musicians, as they will have the opportunity to perform some of their personal favorites. Included in the repertoire are both classical and pops selections such as “Die Fledermaus Overture” by Johann Strauss, “Rumanian Rhapsody No. 1” by George Enescu, and selections from the “Harry Potter” and “Hook” soundtracks, scored by John Williams. In addition, a performance of “Der Schwanendreher” by Paul Hindemith will feature HSYO Concerto Competition winner, Kayra Hyatt.
“Each year, the HSYO holds a concerto competition for members of the orchestra,” Hunsberger explained. “The winner performs their selection with the full orchestra as part of the Mother’s Day concert.”
Also performing will be the Junior Youth String Orchestra with selections by John Rutter, Antonin Dvorak and Edouard Lalo.
While Blanchard plans to major in music education after graduation, Duvall sees her future in the medical field “while participating in an orchestra,” she said.
Whatever each student’s decision, Hunsberger knows the positive impact that HSYO has made on them individually, as well as on their communities.
“We’re helping them understand that they have something positive to contribute to the world,” he said. “And, if that happens to be through a career in music, even better!”
The Harrisburg Symphony Youth Orchestra (HSYO) Mother’s Day concert takes place on May 12 at 3 p.m. at the Forum, 500 Walnut St., Harrisburg. For more information, visit www.harrisburgsymphony.org.