It used to be that when the Flagler Youth Orchestra’s music director went to a half dozen schools at the beginning of every new year, performing with a group of musicians to introduce the orchestra to students and recruit them, most children would not have heard about it. It’s been a little different the last couple of years, as it was last week when Caren Umbarger took her trio to six schools.
For one thing, and Umbarger aside, the trio wasn’t made up of professional musicians, as it was in the past. The youth orchestra’s own students were two-thirds of the chamber ensemble. Students who’ve been with the orchestra for many years are getting to the point where they may be considered performers. That’s the intention of the orchestra, though even the most advanced students have a way to go.
Mark Your Calendar:
- The Flagler Youth Orchestra holds its open house Wednesday, Sept. 8, at 5 p.m. at the Indian Trails Middle School cafeteria. All students 3rd grade and up may join.
- See the Youth Orchestra’s Web Page (and Enrollment Form)
- Contribute to the Youth Orchestra
For another, the youth orchestra is no stranger to schools or students anymore. Well over 1,000 students have spent time in the orchestra at some point in the last six years. The group began with some 300 students last August. So the touring trio wasn’t recruiting so much as it was refreshing impressions and encouraging students who’ve thought about it before finally to make the jump and join.
This is the week. Wednesday is the day: at 5 p.m. at the Indian Trails cafeteria, Umbarger and the rest of the Flagler Youth Orchestra are holding an open house for anyone in 3rd grade and up who’d like to join. (See a photo gallery of the orchestra.)
Here are the basics: It’s a free program. Students can choose to play the violin, the viola, the cello or the double bass (though there’s only a few of those giants to go around). The only thing students would have to pay for is the instrument they’d like to play (either by renting or buying an instrument). Even then, those who can’t afford an instrument will have one provided for them: the youth orchestra’s fund-raising ensures that scholarship instruments are readily available. One-hour music classes and rehearsals are held every Monday and Wednesday at Indian Trails Middle School, from 3 to 6 p.m. Four music teachers lead those classes, accommodating beginners and up. But even beginners will be performing at the first public concert of the season, at the Flagler Auditorium on Dec. 8.
Listen to the Orchestra Perform Stand By Me (May 2010 Concert)[media id=41 width=250 height=100]
A few things will be done differently this year. The orchestra is taking students from third grade and up. “We just don’t have enough teachers or space,” Umbarger says. Or money: the Flagler County school district underwrites the cost of the artistic director, two additional teachers and an executive director, the youth orchestra’s fund-raising takes care of the fourth teacher, all of whom are committed to developing players into musicians. In previous years, younger students dropped out, being either overwhelmed by the challenge or lacking more individual attention. The aim this year is to ensure that students who do join get more of the attention they require. The emphasis is not just on rehearsing for concerts, but on learning technique and music theory. “Fundamental Mondays,” Umbarger calls it. It’s part of any youth orchestra’s evolution.
“The initial mission of the program was an inspiration for the children, it was successful,” Umbarger says. “We’ve been in a period where every organization starts out in survival mode, and the Flagler Youth Orchestra has survived. And now we’re going to move into the developmental part of our journey. After enough years of this then we’ll actually move into refinement and artistry. But we have a ways to go.”
There’s more survival than meets the eye. Literally—budget challenges and the organization’s natural growth pains aside. Two-thirds of the way into last year, the orchestra’s beloved artistic director, Jonathan May, died from a fatal stroke. It was a traumatic event for the orchestra. In stepped Umbarger, who’d worked with May and had just moved to St. Augustine, with eyes on a youth orchestra’s baton in her plans. The transition from May to Umbarger was almost seamless. But it wasn’t the only transition the youth orchestra was going through, or had to go through. There was that “next level” former School Superintendent Bill Delbrugge had intended for it, and that Umbarger is implementing.
May hadn’t been limited by his energy, which seemed boundless, but by his commitments: he had four major orchestras under his charge, and the Flagler Youth Orchestra was on the periphery of his overwhelmed calendar. The orchestra is Umbarger’s single commitment. She spent the summer with program director Cheryl Tristam readying the program’s new direction, hiring a new teacher and developing a new curriculum.
Paul Leiner, the new teacher, taught in other string programs and is currently directing the Millennium Middle School orchestra in Sanford and teaches applied strings at Seminole State College. “I’m walking into an environment that’s obviously motivated and working toward the students’ greater good and improvement,” Leiner said after his initial class last week, when returning students resumed their bi-weekly schedule ahead of Wednesday’s open house. “A lot of thought has been put into what to teach them and what product they want to see in the long run.”
Returning teachers include Justin McCullouch and Jack Jeffe.