Feb. 28 will be a red letter day for many young artists in Chautauqua County.
On that date three youth orchestras will demonstrate to our community the skills they have learned through the Chautauqua Region Youth Symphony. The concert will begin at 4 p.m., in the Robert L. Scharmann Theatre, on the Jamestown campus of Jamestown Community College.
I want to tell you a bit about the youth orchestra program in general, plus a word about the tag day sales which helps them to operate, some information on the music which they will be performing on the 28th, and finally a word with their Music Director, Bryan Eckenrode.
Conductor Bryan Eckenrode advises student musicians Emily Williams and Mei-Wen Maxwell, as they prepare for their upcoming concert.
It never fails to impress me, the large number of artistic programs for young people in our community, and the high quality of the programs.
The Chautauqua Region Youth Symphony program includes no fewer than three orchestras for musicians between grade three and the first year or two at Jamestown Community College.
It never fails to astonish me, that very few people in the world undertake to learn a sport without actually forming a team - formally or casually - and actually playing, yet all too often, people will begin learning an art, with no outlet, to demonstrate their accomplishment and to give them regular goals to strive to achieve.
Recognizing that curious situation, local music teacher Nina Karbacka decided in 1987 that her students and our community would benefit greatly from the formation of a youth orchestra which could give them performance experience, bring them together with other young musicians, and put them in touch with adult professionals, so they could progress through the steps necessary to learn music, with access to correct information and good advice in fitting their own needs to the process.
CRYS has evolved through the years into three orchestras.
Prelude Strings is made up of students between grades 3 and 6. This very young orchestra meets for six weeks each year, in January and February. They rehearse at Lutheran Social Services, near the city's eastern boundary, on Friday afternoons. The ensemble currently has 25 eager young members.
Young Artists' Orchestra is for students of middle school age. They also meet for six weeks, in January and February, on Saturday mornings, at the Reg Lenna Civic Center. As of this writing, the ensemble boasts 45 members.
The Youth Symphony itself is available to students in high school and at Jamestown Community College, by audition. It meets all throughout the school year, on Saturday mornings at the Civic Center. At this time, the senior ensemble has 40 regular members.
All three ensembles have the same music director and conductor: Bryan Eckenrode.
Surely everyone understands that having an opportunity such as these orchestras comes with a need for money.
Considering the quality of people who completely donate their time and talents to the program, the price tag is astonishingly low, and yet there is a cost, nonetheless.
To help meet the costs, orchestra members and their families will hold three tag days, during which, if you'd like to help them out a bit, you can donate money and receive a tag to wear on your coat, to show your support for the organization and demonstrate your generosity.
Tanya Anderson, a first-year member of the CRYS Board of Directors, is chairman of the Tag Days.
She told me recently, ''The orchestras get grants from foundations and the student participants pay tuition, although the cost of tuition is on a sliding scale, and we make sure that no students who are recommended for membership by their teachers are denied participation, even if they can't pay tuition.
''The Tag Days raise some of the costs, and they also let the community know that these organizations exist and they are made up of a terrific bunch of kids who work really hard,'' she continued.
What kinds of costs are met by the money donated by tag purchasers? ''We use the money to buy things such as music stands, folders, sheet music, and so on, plus to meet the tuition of those who can't pay it themselves.''
Ms. Anderson added that this is the only public performance, in a given year, in which all three ensembles perform. ''It results in some interaction among the orchestras, and helps the very young musicians to see the very real steps which are available to them in the future,'' she said.
Today, orchestra members will be at Brigiotta's Farmland Produce & Garden Center, at 414 Fairmount Ave., in Jamestown.
Both next Saturday and Feb. 27 they will be at both Wal-Mart and the Foote Ave. Quality Market.
The youngest instrumentalists will be playing a short program of what their music director calls ''Energetic and upbeat pieces which also teach a technical skill.''
Among these is a piece called ''The Metro Gnome,'' and one called ''You Rock.'' A third, by composer Robert Frost - who is not the former Poet Laureate - is designed to teach the skill of playing pizzicato. That is the art of playing stringed instruments by plucking the strings, rather than with a bow.
The Young Artists' Orchestra will play ''Little Bourree,'' by Hasse. That is a type of dance, developed in the 16th Century, along the eastern coast of France.
They will also play several selections from the beloved symphonic poem ''Finlandia,'' by Finnish composer Jean Sibelius, and the dynamic ''1812 Overture,'' by Peter Illych Tchaikowsky.
After their regular pieces, the Young Artists' Orchestra will join with the senior ensemble to perform together ''Capriccio Espagnol,'' by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, which is based on Spanish themes, assembled for a Russian audience.
To conclude the program, the Youth Symphony will play a Spanish Bolero by Paul Eno, a jazz piece based on the old jazz standard ''Frankie and Johnny,'' and a selection of pieces from Leonard Bernstein's 1950s setting of Shakespeare's ''Romeo and Juliet:'' ''West Side Story.''
Joining the orchestra for the Bernstein selections will be Marie Karbacka, soprano. She is currently a student at Mercyhurst College, in Erie, where she is majoring in voice performance.
Ms. Karbacka performed as a violinist with the orchestra for seven years, and was its Concert Mistress for two of those years. In her senior year, she performed the ''Violin Concerto #3 in G Major,'' by W.A. Mozart. She also performs on French Horn.
Since many of the pieces from ''West Side Story'' are duets, the soprano will be joined by the conductor. He smiled and added, ''That will be interesting.''
All of the CRYS ensembles, as I said before, are conducted by Bryan Eckenrode. His is a familiar face to music lovers throughout Western New York, Northern Pennsylvania, and Southern Ontario.
In addition to his work with the Jamestown ensembles, Eckenrode leads the Warren Community Orchestra, among others, and he has performed at sites as remote as Carnegie Hall, in Manhattan, and on numerous commercial recordings.
He is perhaps most often seen as a cello soloist. He has performed in that capacity with the Western New York Chamber Orchestra, the International Baroque Soloists, who perform the annual Bach and Beyond festival, in Fredonia, and with the Chautauqua Chamber Singers, to name only the most local organizations. He teaches music, mostly the cello, at the State University of New York College at Fredonia, at Villa Marie College in Buffalo, and at Niagara University in Niagara Falls, among others.
Just in case that doesn't keep him busy enough, he is an accomplished bagpiper.
Eckenrode's work schedule is so demanding, he maintains three residences: One in Jamestown, one in Buffalo, and one in Toronto, yet despite our notorious ice and snowstorms, he has never missed a rehearsal. We managed to share a conversation with him while he was in town to conduct a rehearsal.
The young musician has been described by CRYS founder Nina Karbacka as ''A perfect candidate for the orchestra. He's kind and he's fun to work with, but he knows music and he isn't afraid to insist upon professionalism.''
He has been Music Director of CRYS since the autumn of 2003.
''I'd have to describe myself as truly impressed by the quality of programming which is available for young artists in Jamestown - in nearly every element of the arts,'' he told me.
''I know of so many communities in which they make an effort at the arts, and congratulate themselves on doing that. Jamestown really teaches them. In the Jamestown Public Schools, for example, there is a wonderful Suzuki Strings program, and it has created a community for young string players,'' he said.
''I have a number of friends who are talented as woodwind players or percussion players, who are doing their best to teach students to perform on stringed instruments,'' he offered as an example. ''In Jamestown, performers on stringed instruments teach string performance. That's a major success.''
The conductor states that he finds himself spending more and more time in Jamestown, because he finds it so much easier to live in Jamestown. ''Things which a person might need to wait in line for more than an hour in Buffalo, for example, can be done in a few minutes, in Jamestown. One day, I was out mowing my lawn and I got distracted, and ended up leaving for Buffalo before I remembered to put away my mower. The next time I came back, it was still sitting there in the yard. That's an amazing thing,'' he said.
Eckenrode grew up in central Pennsylvania, near Altoona. He says that playing the cello was a lonely thing for him, and that there was no community support for his choice to study it, such as has developed here.
He first came to Jamestown through his teaching and performing at Fredonia State.
''My wife teaches at Niagara University, and works as a realtor along the Niagara Frontier,'' he said. Eckenrode is married to Canadian soprano Cristen Gregory, who also has a performing career which keeps her travelling as well.
''Cristen's life doesn't bring her down to this part of the country as often as mine does, and I've had awkward conversations with my neighbors, who want to ask if we might have broken up, because they haven't seen her in such a while,'' he laughed.
Our young musicians get all the advantages of small town living, with friendly neighbors, low crime, and a community which supports them in their efforts, and the advantages of instruction from top professionals who are deeply involved in the music community on a national and international basis. What a wonderful thing!
Today at 4 p.m., soprano Angela Haas will perform a faculty recital of love songs by composers including Britten, Liszt, Bolcom, and Heggie.
The performance will take place in Rosch Recital Hall, which is located inside Mason Hall, on the campus of the State University College of New York at Fredonia. There is no charge.
Other upcoming, free performances on the Fredonia campus include these:
Today at 2 p.m., singer Amanda Hall sings in Rosch Recital Hall.
Today at 3 p.m., saxophonist John Green performs in Diers Recital Hall.
Today at 6 p.m., saxophonist Melissa Widzinski performs in Rosch Recital Hall.
Tomorrow at noon, pianist Jiyong Kim performs in Rosch Recital Hall.
Tomorrow at 2 p.m., singer Myriah Marsh performs in Rosch Recital Hall.
Tomorrow at 4 p.m., a faculty recital of chamber music from the 20th Century will present works by Lutoslawsky, Cage, Britten and Rousseau.