Selecting a Youth Orchestra
Here are 7 important orchestra questions to consider asking when selecting a youth ensemble:
What is the prestige of the ensemble?
Distinguished student orchestras perform original, complex masterworks. Performing alongside talented peers and under influential directors provides valuable experiences which could be beneficial for success at both the collegiate and professional level.
Can students expect quality performance experiences?
Many youth orchestras share concerts in public school and church auditoriums, while others perform in collegiate or public concert halls. Students should attend a concert or two to see if they are inspired by the venue and the performance. Additionally, some orchestras offer travel opportunities, such as Carnegie Hall concerts or international tours.
What is the reputation of the conductor?
Youth orchestra conductors have a wide range of credentials - top high school educators, collegiate conductors, and professional orchestra conductors. Students should visit at least one rehearsal. Some orchestras have open rehearsal nights occasionally for potential players to sit in and play. Look for a balance of enjoyable and challenging rehearsal experiences.
Are there coaching opportunities?
Many youth orchestras employ instrumental specialists to assist with sectionals, lead chamber ensembles, or offer master classes. Others have “side-by-side” concerts with a local professional orchestra. Some have concentrated summer camp experiences. Any added “coaching” benefits will increase the value and the overall impact of participation.
Does the ensemble have concerto or original compositions contests?
Participating in concerto contests gives you audition “practice” in a competitive setting. Submitting an original composition might generate some valuable tips and suggestions from those judging the submissions.
What is the organizational structure of the ensemble?
Many organizations offer ensembles at several age and ability levels, while others are only a single advanced ensemble. Some are sponsored by local professional orchestras, performing arts organizations, home school groups, or public-school districts. Bigger does not always mean better - look for an up-to-date website and get feedback from current participants and also “orchestra parents.” Ask for a copy of their student handbook before auditioning.
What are participation costs?
Nearly all youth orchestras have tuition fees for participants. Many give family discounts and some offer scholarship opportunities. There will be concert attire expectations to consider and possibly the cost of travel and camp experiences. Whatever the cost, these experiences are likely to give students a greater return on their investment of time, effort, and resources.
A bit of exploration and discovery will help students and parents develop a list of priorities and values to help with the decision.