Landing on the fall downbeat

Georgia Geen

Every musician will eventually
face the horror of an audition. They
spend hours practicing a piece until
each note is stylistically and dynamically
perfect. Even so, they end up
with a pounding heart, walking down
the hallway to face the judges.
This is the audition process for each
new member of Hanover County’s
Youth County Orchestra. Except the
audition judge isn’t a surly old man,
Hanover’s own Amy Birdsong is the
director of the long running program.
“I actually was asked to do it. The
Associate Conductor of the Richmond
Symphony and the education
head at the time came into [my] office
and said, ‘We want you to take over
YCO,’ and I actually laughed at them.
I thought they were joking,” Birdsong
Birdsong’s primary instrument being
the saxophone, she might have
seemed like an unlikely pick to others,
as saxophones are not included in
full orchestras.
“They really thought that I should
and could do it. It was quite outside
my comfort zone, initially, but then I
learned that music is music,” Birdsong
said. A full orchestra includes string,
woodwind, brass and percussion instruments.
YCO is a long running program,
intended to give students in Hanover
County opportunities to play with an
ensemble that typically isn’t available
to them within their schools.
Both middle school students and high
school students can audition. The
auditions are held in either June or
August, with acceptance letters being
mailed out over the summer.
“I got my letter in the
mail and I got accepted,
so then I started
screaming, I was
so happy,”
Katie Bowling said.
There are four different musical
groups within the program.
Symfonietta and Camerata are the
smaller and younger ensembles.
These two act as feeders for YCO and
the Richmond Youth Symphony Orchestra,
or RYSO.
RYSO and YCO both start rehearsal
in September, with the commencement
of school. Typically, RYSO
members are juniors or seniors in
high school, since it’s the most challenging
ensemble to get into.
“I joined Camerata halfway
t h r o u g h , because my friend told
me that they had open
violin spots and I
figured it would
be something fun
to do. I wanted to
work on getting
my technique up
and just have fun
playing my violin,”
B o w l i n g
Since strings and band
are typically so isolated, there
sometimes rather stark differences
in teaching the two groups.
“There’s just different personalities,
so they don’t laugh at my jokes,
usually. I have to say, ‘Ok, if we’re
going to get along, you’re going to
have to at least fake laugh.’ I think
there’s also a trust thing, they have
to know that even though I’m not a
string player, I still know what I’m
doing,” Birdsong said.
Anyone who attends each YCO
performance is able to see the progression
of the ensemble. In the beginning,
Birdsong spends time teaching
new concepts in order to develop
each member as a player.
“I love the performances, I feel like
they’re a really good experience even
though I’m not going into music, just
getting up in front of people and doing
what I want to do is lots of fun.
The Carpenter Theater is beautiful
and I’ve made a lot of friends,” senior
Ivie Petrus said. Petrus is in her third
year as a percussionist at YCO.
Unlike a typical band class, the
number of wind players in the ensemble
is much smaller than the number
of strings players.
“It does make you more accountable
for knowing your music, playing
the best to your abilities and playing
out,” senior Jonathan Marshall said.
This is especially true for Marshall’s
instrument; clarinets are known for
being a quiet.
Band and strings students are tight
knit within their own classes and this
translates to outside ensembles as
well. Students carpool together, in
addition to a carpool driven by Birdsong.
“We jam out in Mrs. B’s car, the
most people we’ve ever had is six people,”
Petrus said. But no worries, her
car seats seven people, legally.


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