LEONARDTOWN, MD — Student performers with The Southern Maryland Youth Orchestra and Choir brought music to life with their spring season concert, “Homeward Bound.” Hosted at St. Mary’s Ryken Auditorium on May 15, the concert concludes the year and auditions for all three groups start this month.  

The youth orchestra, CAPELLA, and the TrebleMakers have been preparing for the May concert since January, said Julia Nichols, President.

“We have 24 students in the orchestra and 40 students in the two levels of choir. We do not have any students in both groups at this point,” said Nichols. “Currently, orchestra students range from 5th grade through 12th grade.  Choir students range in age from 7 through 15.”

The concert’s theme Homeward Bound, features musical pieces such as Selections from Andrew Llyod Webber’s The Phantom of the Opera and Ronan Haridman’s Lord of the Dance, as well as a choir capella performance of Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing,” said Nichols.

“My personal favorite from the orchestra was Mussorgsky’s Hopak, and from the choir was “Hey Ho Nobody Home,”” said Nichols.

The favorite piece of the concert was “Nimrod” from Edward Elgar’s Enigma Variations, said Andrew Smouse, orchestra director.

“This is a piece of standard literature performed by all the major orchestras of the world.  Typically, younger players play arrangements of famous works but this particular piece was the original work performed by professional orchestras,” said Smouse.

While live performances always have their mistakes, the excitement of live performances are what makes these shows special and memorable, said Smouse.

“The orchestra and choir did a great job harnessing the excitement and nerves to bring their talents to a new level throughout the entire performance,” said Smouse. “I am a firm believer in teaching basic music theory and music history during rehearsals. This being said, during rehearsals we have listened to performances, discussed composers and works, and learned the basics of music theory.”

Music is a big part of every culture, and it touches all individuals in some way during their lives, said Nichols.

By studying music, students can come closer to understanding the history, struggles, and successes of the eras in which the pieces were written, said Smouse.

“Music is also a way that many have used to express their emotions when words may fail.  In short, music is the only major form of communication, to my knowledge, that does not require a translation to be understood making it a truly universal language,” said Smouse. “Knowing basic music notation is a skill that can be used throughout a life time in the same way as foreign language or mathematics.” 

If students want to pursue music education or performance as a profession, Smouse gives the same advice to all interested.

“Aside from having among the highest major drop-out rates in college and burnout rates in careers, it is also among the most rewarding careers one can have.  It is not for everyone but if you love music, teaching and helping others, and interacting with people, this may be a career for you,” said Smouse.

Children who learn music will learn from their mistakes and recover more quickly from their mistakes throughout their lives, said Nichols.

“Studying music also helps teach children focus and perseverance,” said Nichols.

Auditions for the 2016-2017 SMYOC season started this month. Students wishing to join either the choir or the orchestra must go to their website to register for an audition, said Nichols.

“Auditions take place in May, June and August before the fall season starts.  Details for what to expect in auditions are outlined on the web site,” said Nichols. “Both groups rehearse on Monday evenings.  The orchestra rehearsed at Ryken High School this spring from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m., and will be rehearsing at Leonardtown High School this fall. The choir rehearses at Leonardtown Middle School with TrebleMakers rehearsing from 6 to 7:30 and CAPELLA rehearsing from 7 to 9.”

Currently most of the students are in public or private schools, said Nichols.

“Most from St. Mary’s, but we do have representation from both Calvert and Charles Counties. We do have some home-schooled students and welcome all students in the Tri-County area to audition,” said Nichols.

Annual tuition is $240 for each group, said Nichols.

“We do provide financial aid to those families in need – we believe that no student should be discouraged from participating due to financial need,” said Nichols. “Once students have passed their auditions, they do not need to re-audition unless they leave the group for a season or more and wish to return, or if they wish to switch instruments in the orchestra or switch levels in the choir.”

The orchestra welcomes all instruments, even non-traditional ones, said Nichols.

“Currently the orchestra has need of more woodwinds and brass, but we are looking to grow in all areas,” said Nichols. “This fall, we are expanding our groups to offer an orchestra and choir experience in an additional location at Prince Frederick.  Our hope is to offer the students in Southern Maryland the opportunity to participate in quality orchestral and choral programs without the need to travel great distances.”

Jaclyn Chapman, choral director, did not return contact from The BayNet. 

Jacqui Atkielski can be contacted at j.atkielski@thebaynet.com