For the love of mu­sic

Com­mu­nity choir, or­ches­tra ex­pand

Maryland Independent - - News - By JESSE YEATMAN jyeat­man@somd­news.com

Mu­sic is uni­ver­sal, and knows no bounds.

To that end, the South­ern Mary­land Youth Or­ches­tra & Choir is con­tin­u­ing to ex­pand its pro­grams for tal­ented young mu­si­cians in the tri-county area.

The non­profit or­ches­tral and cho­ral pro­grams are two-tiered, of­fer­ing both prepara­tory-level ensem­bles for younger or less ex­pe­ri­enced mu­si­cians, and an ad­vanced level for those with the skills and readi­ness for a more chal­leng­ing, ex­pan­sive and di- verse reper­toire.

“We have de­vel­oped a kind of com­mu­nity of fam­i­lies whose kids love to play mu­sic [es­pe­cial- ly] with other kids,” Su­san Bis- son Lam­bert, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor, said. The ex­pan­sion for­mally into Calvert County was a log­i­cal next step in the growth of the or- ga­ni­za­tion, she said.

“Our num­bers have grown,” es­pe­cially with the ex­pan­sion into Calvert County, she said. They are just shy of 100 per- for­m­ers now, and look­ing to dou­ble that num­ber in the com­ing years.

SMYOC has of­fered mu­si­cal pro­grams to youth in South­ern Mary­land since 2013. The youth or­ches­tra, a full or­ches­tra ac­cept­ing both tra­di­tional and non-tra­di­tional in­stru­ments, as well as the youth choirs, draw tal­ented mu­si­cians from all three coun­ties in South­ern Mary­land, the ma­jor­ity from St. Mary’s and Calvert.

This year saw sev­eral big changes for the mu­sic group.

“We now have a sec­ond re­hearsal lo­ca­tion, or home base,” she said. Start­ing with this past fall’s sea­son, choirs now prac- tice out of Prince Fred­er­ick in ad­di­tion to the ex­ist­ing choirs in Leonard­town.

The com­bined youth or­ches- tra, start­ing in Jan­uary, will re­hearse at Patux­ent High School in Lusby once a week.

“An­other new thing is we start- ed a strings or­ches­tra that had never ex­isted be­fore,” she said. The prepara­tory strings group is also com­posed of stu­dents from both sides of the Patux­ent River.

There are four choir groups — two in St. Mary’s (the young- er Tre­bleMak­ers and the older Capella) and two in Calvert (the younger Al­le­gro and the older Fer­mata).

All three el­e­ments — choir, or­ches­tra and strings — will perform in a hol­i­day con­cert on Sunday, Dec. 18, at 3 p.m. at Patux­ent High School.

Both the or­ches­tras and choirs have rolling au­di­tions, al­though they are pri­mar­ily in early Jan- uary for the spring sea­son and late spring for the fol­low­ing fall sea­son.

Lam­bert praised lo­cal schools’ mu­sic pro­grams, which she thinks of as a part­ner­ship with the non­profit group. Lam­bert said SMYOC will work with stu­dents to be sure they have time to par­tic­i­pate in school mu­sic per­for­mances, too.

“We en­cour­age all our kids to play in their schools’ pro­grams,” Anita Wilson of Leonard­town said.

Her son, Tom Wilson, 13, plays trum­pet in the Spring Ridge Mid­dle School band and has per­formed with SMYOC for sev­eral sea­sons.

He likes play­ing with SMYOC, which of­fers more chal­leng­ing pieces set to a full or­ches­tra. In ad­di­tion to the main youth or­ches­tra, Wilson also plays in the brass quar­tet and shows his skills on the bass gui­tar in the SMYOC pop band, two off-shoot groups from the or­ches­tra.

“It started be­cause they just like to jam,” Lam­bert said about the seven-mem­ber band that in­cludes gui­tarists, a drum­mer and other in­stru­men­tal­ists.

There’s also an am­bas­sador pro­gram for the most tal­ented and ex­pe­ri­enced mu­si­cians, which is of­ten fea­tured dur­ing the mu­si­cal pro­grams.

An­other change this year in- volved bring­ing in some new lead­er­ship, in­clud­ing mu­sic di­rec­tor and con­duc­tor Julien Beni­chou and con­duc­tor Ch­eryl Block­land.

“They re­ally bring a lot of ex­pe­ri­ence and ad­vice,” Tom Wilson said.

In­deed, both new con­duc­tors are well known in the re­gion, es- pe­cially Beni­chou.

“He’s a big name in youth or­ches­tras,” Lam­bert said of Beni­chou, who also di­rects the re­gional Mid-At­lantic Or­ches­tra.

Block­land, who has two decades of teach­ing ex­pe­ri­ence in Calvert schools, is de­voted to mu­sic ed­u­ca­tion, Lam­bert said.

Lam­bert said the or­ga­ni­za­tion wants to ex­pose the or­ches­tra and other parts of the group to new op­por­tu­ni­ties like guest per­form­ers and more col­lab­o­ra­tions.

Sis­ters Ava, 13, and Ken­dal Ward, 15, both earned spots play­ing vi­o­lin af­ter au­di­tion­ing last spring, their mother, Linda Ward, said.

“They just re­ally en­joy play­ing mu­sic and it was a great op­por­tu­nity” to join the group, the mother said.

She said she re­ally en­joyed the group’s Novem­ber con­cert and is look­ing for­ward to this week­end’s per­for­mance. In ad­di­tion, the girls have played at other lo­cal events, in­clud­ing a prepara­tory strings per­for­mance Sunday at An­n­marie Gar­dens’ on­go­ing hol­i­day lights event.

Linda Ward said she en­cour-

aged her daugh­ters to try out so they could meet new play­ers and con­duc­tors.

“It’s a nice group of peo­ple,” Linda Ward said.

Lau­ren Cooney, 14, sings in the youth choir. The 14-year-old said she had some stage ex­pe­ri­ence (she was in the Spring Ridge Mid­dle School musi- cal per­for­mance of “Shrek Jr.” and in the cho­rus of a Sum­mer­stock pro­duc­tion), so she jumped at the chance of tr ying out for the com­mu­nity youth choir af­ter re­ceiv­ing an in­vi­ta­tion.

She said she was ner­vous lead­ing up to the au­di­tion, but the di­rec­tor made the process very com­fort­able and all of the anx­i­ety “dissi- pated” be­fore singing “For- ever” from her stage de­but along with “The Star-Span­gled Ban­ner.”

Au­di­tions are re­quired for par­tic­i­pa­tion in any SMYOC en­sem­ble. All au­di­tions are sched­uled via an on­line ap­pli­ca­tion.

With the fall sea­son al­most be­hind her, Cooney said she feels she made the right choice to join.

“It helped me im­prove my voice a lot,” along with her self-con­fi­dence, she said.

Her mother, Chrissy Cooney, said the group is run well and there are car­pool­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties avail­able for those who need help get­ting their chil­dren to the weekly re­hearsals.

“I think it’s been a great thing for her. She re­ally likes it,” the mother said.

Re­hearsals for all SMYOC ensem­bles are once a week. Tuition is charged for par­tic­i­pa­tion in or­der to cover a per­cent­age of the cost of mu­sic, re­hearsal space and salary for the con­duc­tors. Fi­nan­cial aid is avail­able.

For more in­for­ma­tion, in­clud­ing to sched­ule an au­di­tion, visit www.smyoc. org.

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