For the love of music
Community choir, orchestra expand
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.