There’s the 14-year-old who has been playing violin since he was 4 and says his school orchestra isn’t challenging enough; the homeschooled boy, also a violinist, who takes private lessons, but wants to learn to play with other musicians; and the cellist from Scituate whose high school doesn’t have a program for strings.
They are a few of the 15 or so teen musicians whose backpacks and instrument cases are strewn across Marshfield High School’s band room as they sit, violins and cellos in hand, playing Beethoven’s Coriolan Overture. These are some of the string players in Bay Youth Symphony, the South Shore Conservatory’s three-leveled youth orchestra.
The group, which formerly was based in Duxbury, hopes its recent move northward will attract young musicians from a wider area.
“We believe [because of the move] we’ll be able to be more available for students north of Marshfield,” said the orchestra’s managing director, Candace Kniffen. “Here, we’ll be convenient for kids from Cohasset and Scituate, but also still convenient for Duxbury kids.”
The orchestra had practiced in the Duxbury Performing Arts Center since its inception six years ago, but construction work there forced the group to move about 6 miles north in September. It is now using music rooms at Marshfield High School for weekly practices.
As the orchestra starts a new school year, one of the directors’ central goals is to bring in more young musicians. Kniffen said although there hasn’t been a spike in enrollment since the last-minute move to Marshfield, she hopes the group’s next four concerts will spread the word.
Jonathan Lam, conductor of the group’s top-tier orchestra — Symphony — said he’d like his 29-person ensemble to eventually grow to 80.
“My hope for BaYS is that it grows and grows,” he said. “And we need the community to help us grow.”
The Bay Youth Symphony is the only regional youth orchestra in southern Massachusetts outside Boston. The group practices on weekday evenings, while Boston-based youth orchestras rehearse on the weekends. Parents say driving to Marshfield on Wednesday nights instead of spending a Saturday or Sunday traveling to Boston and back has been a blessing.
Heidi Connor, a Kingston mother who homeschools her children, has a son and a daughter in the group.
“BaYS is the only way for them to have an orchestra experience short of going to Boston on the weekends,” she said. “It’s just a jewel of a program.”
But fitting it into young people’s schedules is still hard. Children and teens are juggling school, homework, sports, and other extracurricular activities, and those who leave Bay Youth Symphony often do so because of busy schedules, Kniffen said.
Students now in the orchestra say they stick with it because they enjoy playing challenging music in an orchestral setting. The big ensemble experience is something many elementary, middle, and high schools can’t provide.
“Most schools are not able to offer this [orchestra] experience,” said Kniffen. “Part of the impetus behind BaYS was for it to be an enrichment of the school music programs.”
Kniffen noted that her organization does not take students away from school programs. If a student’s school does offer a band or orchestra program, the child is required to participate in it if they want to join Bay Youth Symphony. They are also required to take private lessons.
Jacqui Farrow, 14, is a freshman at Pembroke High School, where there is a two-year-old strings program. She has been playing viola with Bay Youth for four years and enjoys the advanced level.
On a scale of one to 10 in terms of difficulty, she said, her school orchestra is a three, with compositions like the menuetto from Mozart’s Symphony No. 35 “arranged into a very easy piece.” With music like the Coriolan Overture, she said, Bay Youth Symphony is a nine.
“Compared to the Beethoven overture, menuetto is a warm-up,” she said.
Many of the musicians in Bay Youth have been playing for years, rising through its three levels. They’ll start in Dolce Strings, which is open to anyone, and work their way up to Sinfonia, which has mostly middle-schoolers. Once they hit eighth grade or high school, many make it into the Symphony. Both of the higher-level groups require an audition.
The cost per student is $350 per year for Dolce Strings, $400 for Sinfonia, and $475 for Symphony.
John Joyce, 14, an eighth-grader at Hingham Middle School, is trying to do some recruiting for the orchestra he has been in for five years. Joyce wants to be a professional violinist when he grows up and has been playing the instrument since he was 4. He said his school orchestra has many beginners and is not up to his level.
“I’m trying to get some of my school friends to join [BaYS],” he said. “BaYS challenges us and makes it really fun. . . . Here we do real music.”