Arts & Entertainment

Lifelong Skills with McHenry Youth Orchestra

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When schools began cutting music programs, one local educator created a haven for talented youngsters. Now, her creation is a dynamic place where youth are thriving.

The McHenry County Youth Orchestra places musicians into groups according to their skill level and offers five performance opportunities per year.

In the signature of Roger Reupert’s email, there’s a popular quote from Aristotle: “Music has a power of forming the character, and should therefore be introduced into the education of the young.”

It’s the reason why Reupert has headed the McHenry County Youth Orchestra (MCYO) for two years and has been involved with the organization for two decades.

“I personally think music education is really important for everyone,” Reupert says. “It builds so many great tools that these students use in school, like self-discipline, teamwork and self-confidence. They build their identity when they play an instrument.”

The MCYO, with its tagline of “Educating and Inspiring Exceptional Musicians,” began in the 1980s as local schools were cutting music programs. One woman, the late Dr. Marie Ann Vos, wanted to do something about it and started working with young musicians. She began with 14 students learning in the basement of her home. That group has grown to 40 members with hope for more in the future.

“Lots of kids don’t have the interest in soccer, or volleyball, or gymnastics and there are a lot of kids who really want to identify as a musician,” Reupert explains. “That’s what we build. And it’s really inspiring for me.”
Reupert is a professional trumpet player and has been a musician for 35 years.

MCYO performs five concerts per year. Through an audition process, musicians of all ages are placed in a group according to their skill level.

There are Prelude, Intermezzo and Symphony orchestras. The bulk of members are in the high school range.

Musicians are taught privately by expert-level instructors at Lakeside Arts Park at the Dole Mansion in Crystal Lake. Known collectively as The Academy, these lessons encompass clarinet, saxophone, flute, oboe, piano, trumpet, viola, violin and cello. Most of the faculty carry master’s degrees and all are professional performers themselves.

At the helm of the orchestra is Emanuele Andrizzi, who also serves as a professor and the director of the orchestra at Roosevelt University in Chicago and Schaumburg. In music circles, he’s considered to be a top conductor.

“I was on the search committee to look for a new conductor two years ago,” Reupert says. “He is well regarded as one of the finest youth orchestra conductors in the Midwest. He’s a great guy and has a great resume.”

This past December, the group was gearing up for one of its biggest concerts of the year – a holiday performance at the Raue Center for the Arts in Crystal Lake. The group, when combined with Woodstock High School’s orchestra, numbered close to 100.

“When you have that many kids playing on stage, it’s very powerful,” Reupert says.

Josh Moore, 17, from Lakewood, doesn’t know what he’ll do with his skills as a tuba player, but he plans to carry his musicianship with him throughout the rest of his life. Now in his fourth and final year of the orchestra, he finds it bittersweet finishing out the season. He’s forged invaluable friendships.

“It’s definitely a really big part of my life, and I’ve enjoyed it,” Josh says. “In college, I’m hoping to join the concert band and hopefully whatever orchestra the college offers. Music is a big part of my life.”

Josh goes to Crystal Lake Central High School, where there’s a music program but no orchestra. He’s been playing the tuba for eight years, getting his first taste of the standout instrument from his mother, Mary Moore, who serves on the MCYO board.

“I saw her playing it and we’d had one in the house for a while,” Josh recalls. “It’s the biggest instrument and it has the biggest appeal. When you walk by, people always say, ‘Wow, what is that?’”

His mom believes it’s important for Josh and his siblings to get involved in music and develop the skill to read music, which can be like a foreign language.

“Reading music is an art skill,” Josh explains. “There’s a lot of creativity, technical skills that go with the listening and knowing where you fit in with everything. It’s important creatively and technically in order to work with such a large group.”

Mary joined the board two years ago, believing in the organization’s mission. She lends her skills as a certified public accountant, serving as treasurer.

“I grew up with music and orchestras, and I think this is a great organization,” Mary says. “I wanted to do my part to help.”

Josh has been fortunate to also be a part of the MCYO’s chamber group. It’s one way the MCYO gets the word out to others in order to recruit new members and boost music appreciation in the community. Instead of bringing the entire orchestra to an event, a select few go out to perform, giving spectators a taste.

Whether it’s for a fall concert at Prairie Ridge High School or a chamber group event, selections can run the gamut from classical to pop. Josh liked learning and performing Korsakov’s “Procession of the Nobles.” It helps when a skilled conductor “magically” brings performers together.

“All of the people in the orchestra are talented enough to play,” Josh says. “The challenge is getting it to sound good together. Sometimes he’ll play the piece over the loudspeaker to introduce it. The low instruments, like me, and the trombones have to listen up to the trumpets and violins. He spends a lot of time talking with the violins about technique and how they should be bowing certain phrases, and where things should end off.”

With any orchestra, Andrizzi explains, there is a lot of preparation in identifying arrangements that are feasible for young musicians.

“We use different versions that are nice to play,” Andrizzi says. “They are challenging, but not too challenging.”

Depending on the concert, he may choose something like a theme around Mozart, pop music or holiday selections.

“It’s good to keep them engaged and keep the adventure of fun and the challenge at the same time,” Andrizzi says. “Overall, I really think it’s important for kids to be exposed to music in general. Music makes us better people. It’s one of those things that really unites all of us.”

There are some students who are not part of the orchestra, but attend lessons at The Academy. They perform in two recitals per year.

Private lessons are 30 minutes for $30; 45 minutes for $45; or 60 minutes for $60. Students generally range from fifth grade through high school, although residents of the nearby Del Webb retirement community have come for private lessons as well, Reupert says.

Seasonal fees range anywhere from $425 for the Prelude orchestra to as high as $745 for the Symphony orchestra. Kids can audition for the Academy or orchestral program at any time during the year. Various financial options are available.

“We have a lot of financial assistance available, as well as needs-based and merit-based scholarships,” Reupert says. “It’s part of our mission to help underserved kids have access to music education.”

Visit mcmusiccenter.org to purchase tickets to an upcoming concert, learn more about joining the MCYO or find out about private lessons.

“My wish list is to get more kids involved in the orchestra,” Reupert says. “Building enrollment is the way we can keep this organization going.”

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