Orchestra Portraits

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The night of the Gatlinburg wildfires, my children and I were in Knoxville for their last orchestra practice of the year. That was the night we picked up their orchestra portraits and some merchandise we had ordered: a car magnet for me, which says “Knoxville Symphony Youth Orchestras;” two mascot lamas, and sweatshirts with the orchestra logo and roster.

Girl with violin

With everything going on since the fire, I have barely had time to enjoy these things or to blog about them. A life-changing event like a national disaster sure puts things into perspective. Nevertheless, as things begin to align toward a new normal, we have time and energy to feel the pride of having joined the youth orchestras this year. Continue reading »

I first heard about the Knoxville Symphony Youth Orchestra in 2006, before I became a mom. I met one of the homeschooling families from Sevierville and all their children played the violin in the orchestra. Something came alive inside of me. I made a mental note of it and thought what a great opportunity to experience and learn music this would be for any child.

Boy with violin

A decade later, I am a proud orchestra mom and have a car magnet to show it. I don’t know how you feel about car magnets proclaiming different things like “My son is in the Navy” or “My child is an honor student at Whatever School.”

Personally, I think car magnets encourage others to go for excellence, to attain higher standards, and to perform on TV instead of sitting on the couch watching others perform. I did not purchase my car magnet to brag. I want to inform others about the Knoxville Symphony Youth Orchestras and to inspire parents and children to look into classical music.


Our Son’s First KSYO Concert

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I can’t believe I have not shared with you guys about my son’s first concert on the stage of the Tennessee Theater, with the Knoxville Symphony Youth Orchestra. He played with the Preludium ensemble, which opened the concert that night. Erin Archer is the wonderfully talented and patient conductor of this group of youngsters.

KSYO Preludium Concert

Our son (photo center, in jacket) during the concert with KSYO. Photo Credit: Faithful Photography

Kathy Hart, who directs Sinfonia and is the overall KSYO manager, told the Preludium after the concert that their pieces were the strongest opening concert of any Preludium in the 23-year history of KSYO. That’s saying a lot. They really did sound so well that night. Continue reading »

They played Finale by Tchaikovsky and an arrangement of Carol of the Bells by Larry Clark. There is a closeup of my son at the end of the clip, by the way. He is standing, wearing a jacket.

Mom and children at the Tennessee Theater

My children and I at the Tennessee Theater before the KSYO concert

The day before the concert, at their dress rehearsal, I was thinking, “I don’t know…” They still sounded shaky in places, some did not know when to cut off, and Erin Archer kept smiling at them, praising them and encouraging them. I would have been more stressed out about it. But she was right. Somehow the stage changed them and their sound was nothing short of amazing.

Boy and girl in the car

In the car, during the drive to the concert. We live one hour away, so it’s a commitment

My daughter’s ensemble, Overture, is preparing for the concert they will give to the other KSYO orchestras at their holiday party. They are not ready for the Tennessee Theater yet. They are scheduled to take the stage in May, after they have been together longer and honed their skills more. If you think my son’s orchestra is cute, you should see the Overture kids – a bunch of six-year-olds handling tiny violins and cellos. Cuteness overload.


Rehearsals Have Started

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We have only seven more rehearsals until our children’s first concert on the stage of the Tennessee Theater in Knoxville. The Knoxville Symphony Youth Orchestra operates six different ensembles for children on different levels of music skills. Our children auditioned this summer and got into Overture and Preludium respectively.

KSYO Preludium Practice

My son (in red shirt) during his first practice with KSYO Preludium

This experience may be a tad more exciting for me than for them, although I can see they like playing in their groups. They made some friends over the summer during String Camp and they were excited to see them again now that they are in the orchestra together. Continue reading »

Music lessons give people different memories and thoughts. Some have never had lessons and regret it. Others think it is really expensive to pay for music lessons and an instrument (it is not). Some people I talk to used to take music lessons and do recitals and then something happened in middle school. They gave up and got interested in sports.

I cannot tell you how many people have told me this. “I got interested in sports and my parents got tired of coaxing me to practice. So they gave up. I gave up. And now I see these adults who can play an instrument and they don’t even make a living with it, but they can just sit at the piano and play. I regret my parents did not insist with my music lessons.”

My experience is that my parents did not make me practice. So I got by with the most basic practice on my own and made it through eight years of violin and four years of piano. If I had been encouraged, I would have better skills. Nevertheless, I am able to help my children right now and can play what they play probably for the next few years.

This helps a lot, because in this way I can work with them at home in acquiring new music, for instance, while during their lesson their teachers focus on things that I would not know how to teach or challenge them with. It’s a team effort and the teachers are happy when they find a parent who understands music theory and practice.

Based on these testimonies and my own experience, I will continue to make sacrifices and keep my children’s music lessons going. Practicing is the hardest part, of course, but I keep telling myself they will thank me one day. By faith, we can move this mountain.


My Children Got Into Youth Orchestra

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Last Sunday, we took our children to West Valley Middle School in Knoxville, where the Knoxville Symphony held auditions for their youth orchestra. They have six ensembles and our kids auditioned for the entry level orchestra called Preludium.

Boy and girl at Pearl Harbor Exhibit

Our children at the Pearl Harbor Exhibit inside Ripley’s Aquarium

By Wednesday, I was getting really anxious to hear the results, even though their violin teacher, who is a concert master in Canada, assured me they would get accepted. The question was, also, how they would be placed, as they are two years apart in skills. I knew that KSYO might start another ensemble, for children whose skills are not yet at Preludium level, but nothing was certain.  Continue reading »

Knoxville is a small city, but somehow there are a lot of children playing violin here. I don’t really know the history behind this movement, but it plays right into my own love for the instrument and my desire to have my children exposed to different opportunities.

We were impressed with the auditioning process. After we signed in at a table marked Step 1, we filled out a form for each child at Step 2 – a different table inside this long hall. Then they told us to go into this large classroom and wait until an attendant came to get each of the children at the right time. Our children’s audition times were five minutes apart, so once they got one, they got the other in just a few brief moments.

We arrived more than 30 minutes before their appointed time, so if we waited some it was because of our own precaution. However, we used that time wisely by having them warm up in an adjacent room. I stepped into a filing closet – literally – with each of them and had them do their scale and piece.

The third part of the audition was a sight reading exercise and that was the unknown. It was scary because it counted for 40% of their grade – quite a bit and just as much as the prepared piece. The remaining 20% was the scale.

My daughter played G Major scale two octaves and Etude by Suzuki. My son played G Minor Melodic scale and Gavotte by Martini. His piece was two pages long, so they actually stopped him mid-way and did not let him finish. On the Suzuki CD, this piece takes almost 2 1/2 minutes, so I understand they did not want to hear him play the whole thing. They went through 370+ children in four days!

Our violin teacher also told us judging panels know everything there is to know about a player in about 30 seconds. So we knew they got all the information they needed to analyze our son in half of Gavotte plus his scale.

He got into Preludium and our daughter got into Overture, which is the newly formed ensemble for “the babies” – six-year-olds who can play, but not at Preludium level. Can you imagine the cuteness overload when that group takes the stage?

Well, they are in. Now the fun begins. Driving to Knoxville for rehearsals and concerts, working hard every day with new repertoire, and watching them make new friends. It will be an adventure for sure.


Auditioning for KSYO

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Today was the day we had been looking forward to since the end of June. It was at the end of June my children attended String Camp in Knoxville, with the Knoxville Symphony Youth Orchestra. When we started camp, I did not think we would be interested in joining simply because of the drive.

Boy and girl with violins

Before the second day of String Camp last summer

But by the end of the week, we were hooked. My children were having fun in orchestra and even though I was exhausted I knew it would all be worth it. Plus, I was enjoying seeing they finally had some positive feelings about the violin. Making friends who also like violin helped a lot, I think.  Continue reading »

We signed up for the audition during Camp, but anybody can do it online on the KSYO auditions page. Auditions are held at West Valley Middle School in Knoxville, which is also where they have rehearsals throughout the year.

We had to arrive there 30 minutes prior to their audition times, to get signed in, warmed up, and have the instruments tuned up. There is a large room where parents and children wait, with several smaller rooms nearby where one can warm up a bit.

An attendant comes by to tune up the violins and to check on us regularly. Everything happened very smoothly. At the right time, the time we received for our children, somebody came and took them to the room where the judging panel was.

My son went first. When he came back, he told us all about it. He said he did fine and because his song was really long they actually did not even let him finish it. The sight reading part was one line and he called it “easy.”

It helped him to see Erin Archer among the five judges, because she was his conductor during the summer String Camp. He was happy and relieved it was over. He told us he had definitely been nervous.

Our daughter’s turn came and she disappeared for five minutes. When she came back, she was all smiles and relieved. She gave me a lot of details about it but then I had to ask some other questions. It turns out that she could not do the sight reading exercise.

Well, even if she does not get in, it will all be worth it. It’s an experience she can build on and now she knows what to expect. But it’s not over till it’s over. We will get the results by next Friday and I will keep you posted.


String Camp

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My children attended String Camp for the first time this year. Organized by the Knoxville Symphony Youth Orchestras, this five-day camp happened at Hardin Valley Academy in Knoxville. About 256 string players showed up and they were organized in five orchestras according to their skills and experience.

KSYO String Camp

On the last day of camp, they wore “concert attire” – as you can see, very relaxed atmosphere.

Since my children had no orchestra experience, they were placed in the entry-level orchestra called Prelude. Erin Archer is the conductor of Preludium, the equivalent of this entry-level for the regular youth orchestra, and so she directed Prelude during String Camp. They played Over the Rainbow and the main theme from Pirates of the Caribbean. The theme of the camp was “That’s Entertainment!” and so all the repertoire was from movies and musicals. Continue reading »

This string camp is highly recommended for players who want to audition for youth orchestras at the end of August. I did not think I would want to start driving weekly to Knoxville again, but we signed up for the camp for a fun and educational summer activity. I also thought this would help the kids with their morale. They have been a little down about their violin experience and have been telling me how much more they enjoy the piano.

Boy and girl with music T-shirts

Wednesday is music T-shirt day. It was fun shopping for these shirts for them.

I figured a bit of ensemble playing and seeing other kids their age play would help. What do you know? It did. Not only do they want to audition for and hopefully join the orchestra in the fall, my son actually got inspired to appreciate the sound of cellos. On the last day of camp, he came to me and said, “I think I would like to learn how to play the cello.” I told him I was not opposed to it and we can talk to several people in Knoxville about finding the right teacher and instrument.

KSYO string camp costume day

Thursday is costume day. So I took Princess Elsa and Master Ninja to String Camp that day.

The string camp consists of two hours, Monday-Thursday: rehearsals, activities, snacks, music appreciation, workshops. On Friday, they stay there from 9am through 3:45pm. After rehearsals and team-building exercises, they get a pizza lunch and a movie (a musical). Then, it’s time for tuning and for joining all the other orchestra levels to rehearse Brandenburg Concerto No. 3 – a camp tradition. The little kids just play open string G half notes if they get lost in that piece. Nobody is worried about it. The bigger kids usually carry the melody as first violins.

At 2:30pm, the concert begins. It is such a glorious celebration of music and children. We parents of course are busy filming and blinking back tears of pride and joy. String Camp was a great experience for us and I highly recommend it. If you live near a city with an orchestra, you might want to inquire if they offer youth symphony opportunities.

Here’s hoping that my children will get into KSYO this Fall!