Youth Orchestra Expands Its Repertoire; New Mission Will Focus on Students' Training and Skills beyond Music

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For 42 years, the St. Louis Symphony Youth Orchestra has provided outstanding training and experience for the region's best young instrumentalists. This year, things will be kicked up a notch.

On its 2010 New York tour, the ensemble received an enthusiastic review in The New York Times, and a KETC (Channel 9) documentary on the orchestra went viral, with 2.5 million hits, last year. The orchestra's members are musically accomplished beyond their years.

To have a career today requires more, however. Musicians need to know every aspect of the field, from social media to fundraising, from community outreach to education.

Besides, many are called but few are chosen in the profession of music. Any basic words of advice for aspiring performers must include the phrase, "Have a backup plan."

That's all included in the youth orchestra's new, enlarged mission. There's something in it for audiences, too: Tickets for the Youth Orchestra, the second-best orchestra in town, are now free.

Members of the External Affairs department at the SLSO, including vice president Adam Crane, education programs manager Dacy Gillespie, community programs manager Maureen Byrne and publicist Erika Ebsworth-Goold, took a long look at the youth orchestra and at similar orchestras elsewhere, seeking ways to make a good program better.

Longtime YO manager Peggy Neilson, who recently retired, "is legendary," Crane says. "She did a terrific job navigating these waters for many years. Now it's our responsibility to take this to the next level."

The students' talent is "incredible," Crane says. "But they come in, they rehearse, they play their concert, and they leave. We're going to concentrate on the whole musician, and take things beyond the stage."

YO members will have more opportunities to interact with and learn from members of the SLSO, from individual coaching to sectionals. They'll learn about marketing, development, public speaking and all aspects of the orchestra, onstage and off. They'll serve as musical ambassadors.

Crane, a cellist and former member of the YO, found his present career almost by accident, when he was offered an internship at Carnegie Hall, in the public relations office.

"I didn't even know what that was," he recalls, but he took to it immediately.

"Not everyone is going to go on to be a professional musician. They need to know about the other opportunities" in music and beyond, and learn skills that will serve them well in every part of their lives.

To that end, the YO's Saturday afternoon rehearsals will be extended by 90 minutes for "Beyond Rehearsal." Every year will include the advancement of musical skills: master classes, music theory, audition skills and more.

For Year 1, the focus will be on "Life Skills Through Music," from practice habits to time management. Year 2 will be "Training and Development," which includes connecting with audiences, managing nerves and building good programs. …