Youth Orchestras

July 6, 2020, 3:54 PM · I'm interested in joining a local youth orchestra in the future. However, a quick google search for 'Illinois youth orchestras' shows around a dozen choices. How do I know which orchestra is the right fit for me and will be a good use of my time? Also, if anyone is familiar with Illinois youth orchestras, can someone recommend a good one that I will benefit greatly from joining? Some of my top choices are the Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestra and the Elgin Youth Symphony Orchestra, can anyone tell me about their experiences with either orchestra?

Replies (15)

July 6, 2020, 4:04 PM · What is your level of playing?
What will it be when you are ready to audition for a youth orchestra?

Some communities have "beginner" youth orchestras orchestras.
It is a good idea to get experience in one of these before going for the"big time." My granddaughter got into one of these when she was about 8 years old. Because of her lessons with me she was ahead of others of her age and was accepted into a level based on her skill level rather than her age. She did not continue into the "county youth orchestra" when she was older because her high school had other musical groups that she joined.

The music director of a youth orchestra can make all the difference in its quality and benefits. I would research locally all you can find about the director and possibly also contact orchestra members and get their inputs.

Edited: July 6, 2020, 4:28 PM · Where do you live and what is your level? Elgin is an excellent organization serving multiple levels. They have a ton of info on their website. I have had several students participate with them and the concerts have always been fantastic. Schaumburg's I haven't visited in a while; several years ago the mid-level strings were good but dragged down by poor wind and brass players; several students have enjoyed it though. I believe there is one in Naperville but have no experience with it.

Usually auditions are in May for the fall but this year, who knows...

Edited: July 6, 2020, 4:29 PM · The solo pieces I am currently working on are Mozart Concerto No. 5 and Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso. I have been playing violin for 8 years
Edited: July 12, 2020, 2:34 PM · I live in the suburbs and I know that auditions for most are in May, I meant for next year :)
Edited: July 6, 2020, 6:48 PM · "May but who knows" refers to: given distancing requirements and restrictions on indoor gatherings, it's hard to imagine orchestras (in certain areas) functioning normally any time soon. One of my local organizations had online auditions in May/June as scheduled, and another postponed to - maybe Sept? But if they can't have physical orchestra, would they bother with auditions only to continue holding "rehearsals" remotely? Even next year, be prepared for the possibility of something unusual". As to the actual question, your local private teacher, if you have one, might be familiar with the local options.
July 6, 2020, 6:19 PM · Hi - at your level I would only recommend two ensembles: CYSO and Midwest Young Artists. Most of the other ensembles will not be high enough in level to meet your needs (assuming you play the listed pieces well).

Both of my kids have done CYSO. It is an excellent program and can meet the needs of kids of all ages and most abilities. My son went through the ensembles for four years before switching to an advanced pre-college program. My daughter (age 10) has been in CYSO for two years and is in the middle school orchestra. I'm happy to answer any specific questions you might have.

Edited: July 12, 2020, 2:29 PM · @Mengwei Shen: I totally agree, and I do have a private teacher- she was the one who recommended the two groups (CYSO and EYSO) I mentioned.

@Susan Agrawal: Do you mind briefly explaining the level of each of the HS CYSO groups? The website does not really help with explaining their levels so I am not sure which one I correspond with haha.

July 6, 2020, 9:56 PM · Sure. Accelerando is kind of a catch-up orchestra for string players who are not at a high school playing level yet and are in 10-12 grade. Concert Orchestra (which has a fabulous conductor!) is probably on average Mozart to Bruch level. Philharmonic this year was just a bit higher than Concert for strings -- mostly Bruch level to standard concerto level (Lalo, Saint Saens, Wieniawski, etc.). Symphony is standard concerto level and up. If I remember correctly, my son got into Philharmonic playing Vitali Chaconne and maybe Mozart 5, and then into Symphony playing Intro and Rondo Capriccioso. (He skipped Concert Orchestra, which is not typical, and wasn't eligible for Accelerando since he was not old enough.)

There is quite a lot of overlap between the orchestras, a lot of which has to do with age and experience. For example, my 10yo didn't move into Concert this year because she is 10 and has not had that much playing experience. But kids playing at the same level who were 13-14 did move up. They often place you conservatively your first year, especially if you haven't had much experience.

Edited: July 6, 2020, 10:03 PM · AFAIK, at your level, you're likely looking at either the Philharmonic or the Symphony Orchestra, depending on how well your Mozart and I&RC are being played. I suspect Mozart 5 is insufficient to get into the Symphony unless it's played immaculately. I&RC would, I assume, be sufficient, as long as it's well played at full tempo.

Do you compete in Illinois All-State? If you do well at All-State, you are probably at a high enough playing level to get into the Symphony. If you're not able to make All-State, you almost certainly are not at the Symphony level.

For a high schooler, I&RC represents a decent level of accomplishment that would put you in the top tier of most youth orchestras.

Listen to Susan, who knows better than I do what the current state of things are. :-)

Edited: July 6, 2020, 11:25 PM · @Susan Agrawal: Thank you so much, this helped a ton. From what I've seen with others, I agree that there must be a lot of overlap, as I know someone who made Accelerando with Bruch, another person who made Concert with Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto and someone else who made Philharmonic with Kabalevsky (they were all sophomores). Although I am not 100% sure yet, I'm strongly considering auditioning for the 2021-22 season, and hope I can make at least Concert Orchestra (which sounds pretty amazing on YouTube).

@Lydia Leong: I'm going into freshman year this year, so I was never old enough for all state.

July 7, 2020, 7:25 AM · @Lydia, the way they do All-State now is a bit different and the level there is for the most part significantly lower than the level of Symphony. In fact, most kids in Symphony don't even do All-State because it is nowhere near as good as CYSO. These days, they have to have an equal number of kids from each region, so that means that a good chunk of the kids are pretty low level, with the exception of the one region that is the wealthy suburbs.

@Nicole, remember that you also have to play a required orchestral excerpt for the top two orchestras and that can make or break you. You may be able to play a great concerto, but if you can't play the excerpt correctly you will be placed lower. And if you don't play the excerpt they won't even consider you for the top two orchestras. The excerpt can also work for you, which was how my son got into to Philharmonic much earlier than usual.

July 7, 2020, 8:49 AM · Hi Nicole,
I would ask your teacher why she suggests the Elgin youth orchestra. She may know something we don't. By the way, I think IL All-State selected students by region even when Lydia and I were kids in DuPage. At least that is what I was told when I didn't make it into All-State. I played in the middle of the first violin section of CYSO my one and only year with the group, but did not make it past the DuPage regional orchestra into All-State because there was no way I could compete with the well-prepared students on the North Shore. But in those days, the CYSO was only one group. It sounds way more competitive now.
July 7, 2020, 11:55 AM · @Susan Agrawal: Gotcha, you're saying that the orchestral excerpt is the most important factor in placement, no matter how good the solo pieces were. That sounds fair.

@Jocelyn Marrow: She recommended those two orchestras since many of her students are part of and benefited from them, as they are both great organizations that are relatively nearby.

July 7, 2020, 3:11 PM · I wouldn't say it is the most important factor, but it allows them to compare the kids 1:1 since they are all playing the same thing. It can be very revealing in either a good way or bad way. :)
July 7, 2020, 3:17 PM · Susan, Region 6 (the Chicago 'burbs) had a FAR better regional orchestra than the All-State orchestra when I was a kid, but there was also some degree of proportionate representation by region population. And CYSO back then pulled kids from multiple regions (we had students who commuted to rehearsals from as far as Champaign-Urbana). The first five stands of each string section at All-State were usually identical to the CYSO players, in the same seating order. ;-)

But in general, even now, I would expect that a Naperville-based kid who could make All-State from their Chicagoland region could make it into CYSO, since it would place them in the top tier of suburban students.

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