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Suburban Youth Symphony Orchestra Gives Children Chance to Develop a Passion

Kaylin Engler, 9 Lansing; Shawna Gordon,10,Manhattan; Karrie Chidester, Beecher; Harmony Corbin, 9., New Lenox.  2nd row left Christia Chambers, co director, SYSO; Kayla Cabrera, 15, Crete, SYSO member and volunteer coach
Kaylin Engler, 9 Lansing; Shawna Gordon,10,Manhattan; Karrie Chidester, Beecher; Harmony Corbin, 9., New Lenox. 2nd row left Christia Chambers, co director, SYSO; Kayla Cabrera, 15, Crete, SYSO member and volunteer coach

Over the last 30 years, the south suburban area/Chicago southwest suburbs have seen a dramatic decrease or just plain absence of string programs offered in schools.

 

More affluent communities in the north suburbs boast of not only thriving band programs, but large orchestras of string students (violin, viola, cello, and bass).

 

“String education is also an investment in a child’s future,” says Janet Kuester, Executive Director of the Suburban Youth Symphony Orchestra.  “Anyone who has looked at a symphony orchestra cannot help but see that the section of the orchestra that has the most players is the string section.  So to play orchestral literature, amateur or professional, there has to be a large amount of players that can play string parts at a high level.”

 

In 2009, Suburban Youth Symphony, a Chicago south/southwest based not for profit 503-c organization came close to dissolving their organization. The string programs in the school districts of Chicago Heights, Park Forest, and Crete were no longer in existence due to budget cuts. Therefore, this extra curricular orchestra, who once had three full orchestras of students hungry for the opportunity to learn advanced orchestral literature, was faced with a greatly diminished pool of advancing students in this geographic region.

 

So the board went into action.

 

Since 2010, the Suburban Youth Symphony has offered an Incredible Opportunity Program. Our thought was that any child who wanted to play a string instrument should come equipped with a strong desire to play a string instrument.  So we have an essay contest which is now done in the fall and the winter.  Students write an essay “Why I Want to Play the violin, viola, cello, or bass”. We select a maximum of 20 students and they receive the same “deal” as if music were still part of a public school education: group lessons/orchestra and instrument rental for the low cost of $25/month!

 

“With a limited budget for marketing, it is difficult to get the word out, but as more and more students find out about this “Incredible Opportunity” the program should expand,” continued Kuester. “This winter, Crete Park District will also be offering a similar program with us that we can reach more students.”

 

 “In 2013-2014, we had eight children who seized this Incredible Opportunity.

October students were Kaylin Engler, 9, Lansing; Shawna Gordon,10, Manhattan; Karrie Chidester, 9; Beecher; and Harmony Corbin, 9. New Lenox.

 

These young girls have lots to say about their experience: All agreed that they “like it” and that violin is “fun to try”. One of them saw violin as part of a school assembly. Another saw her grandpa play. One of the favorites of the group was “Can Can”, a piece learned in many 1st year method books. After only 5 months of playing, these children have already performed in the SYSO holiday concert and just finished performing at a master class at Trinity College on February 2.

 

The 2nd group of 4 Incredible Opportunity students began their studies in January/February 2014.

 

“Surprisingly, the students who wanted to study are all within a few years in age of each other and are all older than the first group,” said Co-Music Director, Katie Bern.

 

This group includes Sarah Dababneh, 13 Tinley Park; Patrick Flatly, 13, Frankfort; Chloe Stroz, 12, Orland Hills, and Logan Williams, 12, Oak Forest.

 

Sarah became interested because one of her favorite characters in a book played the violin.  Patrick’s uncle showed him a violin and his best friend plays cello.

Logan started listening to cello music and thought he would like to play cello.

Chloe already plays many other instruments including piano, clarinet, flute, piccolo, and bongos.  The group agreed; they are all catching on fast and really like just “jumping in”

 

Though the Incredible Opportunity program has been in existence just since 2010, SYSO, the orchestra for advancing string players, has grown in numbers and some of the students have truly found string playing is their passion.

 

Kayla Cabrera, Crete, started on violin at 13 and is now 15.  Before her year was up on violin, knew that she really wanted to play the viola.  “I have grown to love playing the viola more than I ever thought I could.” She now studies privately with Matt Mantell and attends summer enrichment, and is a member of one of the Chicago Youth Orchestra as well. Kayla also volunteers with the Incredible Opportunity to help the young students get started because “I love it.”

 

The orchestra provides the students with an opportunity to play advanced string orchestra literature as well as experience chamber music: music composed for a small string group. Each year the students are coached weekly in the chamber music and attend a master class so their groups are critiqued. The students perform the chamber pieces at the Master class, at the Illinois Philharmonic Concert preshow (this year, Saturday, February 15 at 7:15pm) and at the “Hearts and Roses” concert for the residents of Waterford Estates, Hazel Crest, on February 23rd.

 

Henry Thiros, 12, Flossmoor, attends Parker Junior High in Flossmoor.  Henry serves as principal 2nd violin in the orchestra.  He is one of the few that is a part of the well-established and growing string program in the Flossmoor schools directed by Samantha May.

 

Henry said, “I enjoy this additional orchestral playing opportunity to be with others from different communities.  The chamber group I play with is at an advanced skill level and I enjoy the challenge.”

 

Logan Hoops, 14, Frankfort attends Southwest Christian School plays piano and plays saxophone in his school band. Logan has autism, so being with other students who love music and play well has been fun as well as a great social and musically motivating experience.  He enjoys playing a string instrument and says SYSO has given him an opportunity to “learn a lot and play music that you haven’t played”. This year, his favorite piece has been Handel’s Messiah, which the group performed with area professionals in the 29th Annual Do It Yourself Messiah December 7 which was organized by Rotary of Park Forest.

 

Autumn Price, 15 of Park Forest likes SYSO because “we don’t have a string program in our school.” She stated, “I love the variety of chamber music.  Since the groups are small, I have to focus more on building my own technique, since there is often just one person on a part, you can’t hide.”

 

Incredible Opportunity meets weekly September through April on Sundays from 3:00-4:00PM and SYSO meets at 4:00-5:30PM both at The Music Connection, 9370 West Laraway Road, Frankfort Illinois.

 

The cost of Incredible Opportunity is $25/ month. SYSO tuition is $45 per month. For further information visit the website, www.suburbanyouthsymphony.org or email theSYSO@gmail.com

 

 

 

 

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