When Joseph Scheer played his violin for the youth symphony orchestra more than 30 years ago, he didn’t realize he’d later attend a premier music school and become a concert master for a top symphony.
All Scheer knew was that he loved playing the violin every Saturday morning with a dedicated conductor and a group of kids from the Wichita area.
Performing challenging music is what North High School student Josh Mitchell also loves to do. He, like Scheer, enjoys the music and the comradeship of his fellow youth symphony orchestra students. Mitchell, a senior, is applying to music programs and hopes to go on, like Scheer, and perform as a cellist at a major symphony.
“I love the experience of being around musicians who take the time to practice,” Mitchell said. “It’s a real treat to come every Saturday and experience music that is performed at such a high level.”
Mitchell is one of the 230 students that will perform on Sunday as part of the Fall Youth Orchestras Concert. Three music groups, with students ranging from grades 4 to 12, will perform works by Verdi, Dvorak, Mosier and Rimsky-Korsakov.
“Music is a great way to express myself and get out everything after a long week in school,” said Helen Soultanian, 16, a junior bassoonist at Andover Central High School.
Founded in 1947, the Youth Orchestra is a group of student musicians led by professional musicians and conductors that falls under the umbrella of the Wichita Symphony Orchestra. Both Gary Burrow, who conducts for the Repertory Orchestra, and Steve Luttrell, who conducts for the Youth Symphony, began conducting for the orchestra more than 20 years ago.
“Mr. Burrow has always been very encouraging,” Soultanian said. “He’s always pushed me to work more and to work harder.”
Soultanian has made great friends with Youth Orchestra members, she said, and recently was accepted into the premier group that Luttrell conducts.
Each student musician must audition for a spot in the Youth Symphony, the Repertory Orchestra or the Youth Chamber Players. Once the musician is accepted into the repertory or chamber group, they again must audition to get a chair in the Youth Symphony.
Scheer, a graduate of South High School who has served as the concertmaster for the Boston Pops Esplanade Orchestra since the 1980s, has kept in touch with several of his Youth Symphony friends. One is the principal cellist with the Richmond Symphony. Another plays the viola for the Boston Symphony.
“We performed difficult music with the Youth Symphony,” Scheer said. “It was an incredible experience.”
Participants from the program can be found performing worldwide.
“I would expect that throughout the years all the top music schools have had our alumni as students,” said the Youth Symphony’s manager, Ann DuPuis. These schools include the New England Conservatory, which Scheer attended.
Many in the Youth Symphony also attend Wichita State University and then go on to play in the Wichita Symphony. Both Valerie Sullivan and Linette Gordon did just that. Sullivan, who attended Heights High School, started with the Youth Symphony in the 1960s, attended WSU, played in the WSO, and now coaches violin with the Youth Orchestras.
“It was just so inspirational to play with wonderful conductors and some of the greatest musicians in the region,” Sullivan said. Her husband and two sons also were a part of the Youth Orchestras.
Gordon, who also coaches violin with the Youth Symphony, plays in the orchestra. “They are talented, great kids,” said Gordon, a Northwest High School graduate.
Mitchell, the principal cellist with the Youth Symphony, credits the conductors, his fellow students and his coach, Arleigh Aldrich, a WSO cellist, with part of his success.
Aldrich, a Youth Symphony alumni and Derby High School graduate, attended WSU and then went on to play for the symphony. She started playing with the Youth Symphony when she was in eighth grade.
“I always looked forward to coming,” she said. “It was just like basketball practice for everybody else. You had your teammates.”
More than 20 current WSO members once performed with the Youth Orchestra. Some, like Aldrich and Gordon, were conducted by Luttrell.
“He’s so fun to work with,” Mitchell said. “He always has something that will make you laugh.”
Luttrell, a retired music teacher from Newton and Southeast high schools, said he wants to make sure he stays out of the way once the students learn the material.
“They’re so full of talent,” Luttrell said. “It’s so much fun.”