Youth Orchestra to play with symphony
By Cindy Tapia
“We are here to stay,” said Lisa Whip, of the Homer Youth String Orchestra Club. Whip is the parent organizer and visionary for the Homer Youth String Orchestra Club, which started three years ago to provide local Homer youth with orchestral opportunities.
The Homer Youth String Orchestra is a group of students that were determined to keep playing their string instruments through high school. The group has grown with the tremendous support of the area music teachers, parents, staff at the public schools and the community of Homer, Whip said.
The students are excited for the upcoming event with the Anchorage Youth Symphony on Sunday, where they will be playing an arrangement of the Finale of Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 2. Tchaikovsky nicknamed this symphony the “Little Russian,” and used a Ukrainian folksong as the basis of this shining, exciting last movement.
“It gives them good experience,” said Whip, “and the chance to play with kids with more expertise is very inspirational for them.”
The students will be playing at 2 p.m. with the Anchorage Youth Symphony, a group that has toured from Great Britain to New Zealand. The performance will be directed by Anchorage Youth Symphony Music Director/Conductor Linn Weeda.
The Anchorage Youth Symphony comprises high-school-age students in the community in and around Anchorage. Students can gain membership in the group through annual auditions. There are about 85 members in the orchestra.
The Homer Youth String Orchestra Club is a nonprofit organization under the auspices of the Kenai Peninsula Orchestra, which is the musical branch of Pier One Theatre. Five students were originally committed when the program was organized, but by the time everything got underway, four more students joined the ranks.
Over the years, the club as grown to 17 members, with ages ranging from 11 to 16. Tia Pietsch, the current music director for the club, designed a specific program to accentuate the talents and abilities of the original nine string players.
“The kids in the orchestra have astounded me with their ability to learn pieces quickly. I ordered about eight pieces for them in September; they had them nearly memorized by October. I selected another seven pieces in January that are more difficult and venture into new styles (jazz/fiddle/movie music). The most difficult piece is probably Folk Tune Air and Fiddler’s Fury,” said Pietsch. “This piece is challenging for its idiomatic fiddle bowings and wicked-fast tempo.”
The club currently has three cellos, two violas, one bass and 10 violins.
“People always joke with me about teaching violin/orchestra… ‘How can you stand the scratching?’ I don’t think these kids have ever ‘scratched,’” Pietsch said. “They really play beautifully. It has been really great to see them develop technically and musically over the last three years.”
All of the students are actively involved with the club in one way or another.
“Without the kids, the group would not even be alive,” Whip said. “Of course, they run into obstacles, but they have been able to overcome them. Now that the kids are older, they have taken over jobs like making posters and writing to the paper with ‘thank yous.’ The kids definitely feel a lot of ownership.”
In addition to meeting several times a week at Homer High School, Homer Middle School and once a week through Community Schools, in order to be in the club, each of the students must work with a private teacher. The area teachers are Michael and Lisa Schallock, Heidi Senungetuk and Tia Pietsch.
The future plans for Homer’s Youth String Orchestra Club are to keep growing. “Our goal has always been to grow into a full youth orchestra—we are on our way,” Whip said, adding that they were looking forward to a performance at the Alaska Islands and Ocean Visitor Center for Earth Day on April 21, and a spring concert sometime in May.
Whip recommended this week’s concert to any musician, child to adult. She said she hopes the entire community will take the opportunity to attend.
“It will be pretty inspiring, ” she said.
“This should be an incredible concert and everyone should make an effort to attend the event—it’s quality (Anchorage Youth Symphony), it’s affordable (free), and it’s classical music (good for the brain, right?) What better way to spend a Sunday afternoon?” she said.
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