All about Arkansas Symphony Youth Orchestra & Ensembles

By: Geoffrey Robson

ASO youth ensemble

Yesterday the Arkansas Symphony Youth Orchestra (together with the Academy Orchestra) performed their first spring concert of 2018, to an almost full house at the Ponce de León Center in Hot Springs Village. They played with great passion and were celebrated with a standing ovation afterwards! The spring performance season will continue on April 27th when ASYO performs with award-winning guest artist Yoonah Kim, clarinetist, an appearance made possible by the Arkansas Arts Council and the Chamber Music Society of Little Rock. And the year closes in grand style with the annual Side by Side performance with the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra on May 6th .

While the seniors in the orchestra are making their final decisions on colleges to attend, Director of Education Barbara Burroughs and I are busily talking to students, parents and teachers about upcoming spring auditions. Students from around the state will travel on May 19th, 21st and 22nd to Little Rock to audition for NEXT season’s orchestra. All of the students in our younger youth ensembles (Academy Orchestra, Prelude Orchestra, and Preparatory Orchestra) are expected to audition to move up. Additionally, friends and colleagues of returning students and new members of our growing community will be added to the mix for a chance to spend next year playing incredible works of symphonic music and pushing their performance experiences to new heights!

Auditions are a stressful but necessary part of becoming an accomplished classical musician (and other types of musician too!). I always tell students that the goal of an audition is not simply to play without mistakes. Everyone makes mistakes. The goal is to demonstrate what you CAN do, and do it well. When I listen to an audition, I am not only rooting for that person to succeed, but I am listening for something of a checklist of sounds and techniques. I am asking myself – ‘regardless of mistakes, does this person have a wide enough variety of skills and techniques to play professional-level music, and is the mindset there to execute?’ I am asking myself – ‘Do I see leadership potential? Does this person seem to be able to truly hear the sounds that s/he is making?’

Listening to auditions is challenging too. There are objective standards regarding technical ability, quality of sound, and of course intonation and rhythm, BUT there are many nuances to this sort of analysis, and it is necessary to keep certain standards consistent over the course of several long days. Not to mention, when a student prepares music that doesn’t demonstrate a wide variety of techniques, yet plays well enough that you think they probably could, there are dilemmas created.

I try to help students avoid pitfalls like this through giving an open clinic on audition preparation. This will take place on Monday, May 7th, and is open to anyone auditioning for the ASO Youth Ensembles program. We will discuss each part of the audition: scales, two contrasting solo pieces, and sight-reading. I explain what techniques need to be demonstrated, why and how each part of the audition is important, and answer lots of good questions from the participants. Some students will even have the opportunity to give some of their audition music a test run in front of their colleagues, and receive feedback from me on the spot, like in a masterclass.

After the auditions are over, students will be faced with an entire summer of opportunity to improve their playing through practicing and attending summer music camps. There are numerous such opportunities right here in Central Arkansas. The ASO itself has a summer strings camp for a wide variety of ages. The ASO String Academy also holds summer sessions. A number of Arkansas Symphony Orchestra musicians are on the faculty of the Wildwood Academy of Music and the Arts. I myself am on the faculty of the Faulkner Chamber Music Festival, which introduces students to the art and joy of playing chamber music – that is, small ensembles without a conductor. That camp is in its 12th year and I am thrilled that has more exciting offerings than ever before.

I hope that some students read this post, as well as teachers, and that talented students across the state continue to sign up to audition for the ASYO! It is an enriching intellectual experience; our members and alums bring leadership skills back to their school music groups, they make long-lasting friendships with students from all over the state, and they interact with a diverse and high-achieving group of students, all while making beautiful music together. Join us!

All about Arkansas Symphony Youth Orchestra & Ensembles