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Symphony, youth orchestra get together and learn from each other

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Elizabeth Hamaker conducts during rehearsal of the combined Toledo Symphony and Toledo Youth Orchestra.


It s a recent Sunday afternoon and the Peristyle stage is wall-to-wall with musicians and their instruments. Under bright lights, a forest of bassoons and double basses thrust upward while dozens of violin and viola bows flutter like sparrows. Two rows of shiny French horns fill one back corner of the stage; at the other are two sets of tympani plus a pair of tuba players. Four harpists sit nearby.

Welcome to the annual symphonic pro-am the collaboration between the Toledo Symphony and Toledo Youth Orchestra that places high school musicians next to professionals who play for pay for one big performance.

It s called the Side by Side Concert. As in many communities around the country with youth orchestras, this annual event has become a tradition.

Under the patient but insistent guidance of Chelsea Tipton II, Toledo Symphony resident conductor, with Elizabeth Hamaker, TYO conductor and David Heath, assistant youth leader, this enormous orchestra nearly 150 people is sweating out the details of music for that afternoon s concert.

Neither looks nor sound clearly distinguish the students and pros. These are motivated, disciplined, hard-working teenagers. Many have played their instruments for years and have gained experience in the 56-year old TYO and its training group, the Toledo Junior Youth Orchestra.

Some of them study privately with pros, the same players they now share a music stand with on this occasion.

It s a really cool experience for the kids to sit and play next to their teachers, says Heath.

The pros have given up dominant chair position to the amateurs. The pros turn the pages. The ams handle the solos. The pros listen and recall their own youth orchestra experiences. The ams watch and listen to the pros.

Give me cr-r-ra-a-azy bows, orders Tipton, arms raised, waiting for full attention. The music under consideration is very energetic and very tough: Polovtsian Dance No. 17 by Borodin.

Also on the program are works by Britten, Mascagni, Grieg Hamaker will conduct that work and Elgar. The traditional closer is Mussorgsky s Great Gate of Kiev.

Tall and commanding, the conductor gestures energetically for a French horn entrance.

He stops rehearsal. No one wants to but they must. The conductor s authority is akin to that of head coach.

Give me more sound, Tipton insists to the horns. They do. The music rushes forward.

Student players must be prepared, the conductor says. They have to watch. They must adjust to the speed of rehearsal. There s no time to reflect.

Athletes measure progress in play with yardage or baskets or runs; musicians use bar numbers. The higher the number, the more progress, and the better they re playing.

The music is really hard, notes Hamaker, a TYO alumna, who says the students started practicing it in December. Some of them bring their scores to their private lessons.

Among the many private teachers on stage are principal flutist Joel Tse, principal harpist Nancy Lendrim, and concertmaster Kirk Toth.

It gives me a chance to share in small, subtle ways the unseen tricks of the trade, Toth says of the Side by Side event.

It s cool to play with grown-ups, says percussionist Alvin Dawson, a junior at Rogers High School.


Brigid Parent, 16, of Bowsher High School, used her harp to help tune the bass of the symphony's Derek Weller.


During a break, high school musicians linger on stage, listening to the pros, watching their quick demonstrations. There s even a mother-daughter pair here: Diane Kent, a second violinist, and her daughter, Elizabeth Kent, who s assistant concertmaster of the TYO.

Violinist Elaine Clines says, Sometimes it s a little scary, but it makes me play better.

It s a great experience for everyone, Tipton notes later, during the concert. He praises the TYO, calling them emerging artists. Although attendance is low, enthusiasm is clear in applause and camera flashes.

It s amazing to have this many people on stage. And it amazes me how quickly things come together, Tipton continues.

The TYO the TJYO have upcoming concerts: the TYO chamber orchestra will play at 3 p.m. April 22 in Christ Presbyterian Church. The TJYO will perform at 3 p.m. May 6 in the Peristyle, where the TYO will conclude its 57th season on May 13 with a 3 p.m. performance.

Auditions are being scheduled now for both groups. Musicians in grades six through 9 may try out for the TJYO May 8, 9, and 10 at Bowsher High School. Appointments are being taken at 419-699-2881. High school musicians may audition for the TYO May 14, 15, and 21 at Rogers High School. Appointments are being taken at 419-882-1953.

Contact Sally Vallongo at or 419-724-6101.

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