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Pioneer Valley Symphony Youth Orchestra real deal for young musicians

  • Conductor, Jonathan Brennand leads the Pioneer Valley Youth Orchestra in their rehearsal at Greenfield High School Saturday, November 21. Recorder Staff/Matt Burkhartt Matt Burkhartt

  • Conductor, Jonathan Brennand leads the Pioneer Valley Youth Orchestra in their rehearsal at Greenfield High School Saturday, November 21. Recorder Staff/Matt Burkhartt Matt Burkhartt

  • Conductor, Jonathan Brennand leads the Pioneer Valley Youth Orchestra in their rehearsal at Greenfield High School Saturday, November 21. Recorder Staff/Matt Burkhartt Matt Burkhartt

  • Conductor, Jonathan Brennand leads the Pioneer Valley Youth Orchestra in their rehearsal at Greenfield High School Saturday, November 21. Recorder Staff/Matt Burkhartt Matt Burkhartt

  • Conductor, Jonathan Brennand leads the Pioneer Valley Youth Orchestra in their rehearsal at Greenfield High School Saturday, November 21. Recorder Staff/Matt Burkhartt Matt Burkhartt

  • Jacob Johnson, a member of the Pioneer Valley Youth Orchestra, plays his cello during their rehearsal led by conductor Jonathan Brennand at Greenfield High School Saturday, November 21. Recorder Staff/Matt Burkhartt Matt Burkhartt

  • Conductor, Jonathan Brennand leads the Pioneer Valley Youth Orchestra in their rehearsal at Greenfield High School as they practice their exit from the stage Saturday, November 21. Recorder Staff/Matt Burkhartt Matt Burkhartt

  • A detail of the rostrum as conductor Jonathan Brennand leads the Pioneer Valley Youth Orchestra in their rehearsal at Greenfield High School Saturday, November 21. Recorder Staff/Matt Burkhartt Matt Burkhartt

  • Tim Demling, a member of the Pioneer Valley Youth Orchestra, plays violin as conductor Jonathan Brennand leads them in their rehearsal at Greenfield High School Saturday, November 21. Recorder Staff/Matt Burkhartt Matt Burkhartt

  • The Pioneer Valley Youth Orchestra is led in their rehearsal by conductor Jonathan Brennand at Greenfield High School Saturday, November 21. Recorder Staff/Matt Burkhartt Matt Burkhartt

  • The Pioneer Valley Youth Orchestra is led in their rehearsal by conductor Jonathan Brennand at Greenfield High School Saturday, November 21. Recorder Staff/Matt Burkhartt Matt Burkhartt

  • Conductor, Jonathan Brennand leads the Pioneer Valley Youth Orchestra in their rehearsal at Greenfield High School Saturday, November 21. Recorder Staff/Matt Burkhartt Matt Burkhartt

  • Members of the Pioneer Valley Youth Orchestra rehearse under conductor Jonathan Brennand's direction at Greenfield High School Saturday, November 21. Recorder Staff/Matt Burkhartt Matt Burkhartt

  • Conductor, Jonathan Brennand leads the Pioneer Valley Youth Orchestra in their rehearsal at Greenfield High School Saturday, November 21. Recorder Staff/Matt Burkhartt Matt Burkhartt

  • Caleb Ireland, a member of the Pioneer Valley Youth Orchestra, plays violin as conductor Jonathan Brennand leads them in their rehearsal at Greenfield High School Saturday, November 21. Recorder Staff/Matt Burkhartt Matt Burkhartt

  • Conductor, Jonathan Brennand leads the Pioneer Valley Youth Orchestra in their rehearsal at Greenfield High School Saturday, November 21. Recorder Staff/Matt Burkhartt Matt Burkhartt

  • Elizabeth Hutchinson, a member of the Pioneer Valley Youth Orchestra, plays clarinet as conductor Jonathan Brennand leads them in their rehearsal at Greenfield High School Saturday, November 21. Recorder Staff/Matt Burkhartt Matt Burkhartt



Wednesday, March 23, 2016

The beginning portion of “The Marriage of Figaro” is a striking and enticing piece of music.

It starts slowly and builds into fast, difficult string passages that require superior control of the instruments. Jonathan Brennand said the piece is quite challenging, but his musicians are excellent students of music.

Brennand is the conductor of the Pioneer Valley Symphony’s Youth Orchestra and is readying his players for two performances this spring. The ensemble will play in Worcester with the Worcester Youth Symphony in Mechanics Hall on April 3 and at Grace Episcopal Church in Amherst on May 7. Brennard plans to step down following the May 7 performance.

“I’m very sad to be leaving,” the orchestra’s founder said. “But it’s been a wonderful past three years and it’s been very rewarding to see our young players come so far and grow so much.”

One of those young players is 15-year-old viola player Tim Demling. The Amherst resident began playing his instrument about six years ago through his school. He was involved in a different orchestra but that conflicted with his schedule, so a friend recommended he try the local youth orchestra.

“Everybody is extremely friendly and I love the conductor. The music we play is really fun and engaging and I love playing it,” he said. “There’s not a lot of people that enjoy playing classical music. It’s great to meet people that have the same interests and love playing the same music. It’s a great experience.”

Playing concerts, Tim said, is “exhilarating.”

“There’s a certain amount of nervousness, but you get used to it and it just becomes a really fun experience,” he said.

Caleb Ireland, 14, of Amherst was the friend who recommended the orchestra to Tim. Caleb joined in the orchestra’s first year because he wanted to broaden his horizons and get more playing experience. 

“It’s been pretty fun and enjoyable. I’ve grown as a musician and ensemble player,” he said. “I’ve learned how to really listen to music and learned how to be part of an ensemble.”

Caleb plays the violin, which he said achieves more melody than some other instruments. He also said he finds the violin to be therapeutic and soothing.

Brennand said for the April 3 performance, his musicians are learning the “Marriage of Figaro” overture, as well as a Mozart German Dance piece and a movement — or self-contained part of a musical composition — from aTchaikovsky symphony. The May 7 performance will include two movements from Johann Sebastian Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos and the “Jupiter, the Bringer of Jollity” movement from Gustav Holst’s “The Planets.” Brennand said, “The Planets” consists of movements named after the planets in the solar system and written in a way that musically describes what they are like.

“Jupiter is the biggest, very grand,” he said. “In the middle, there’s a beautiful, slow melody that pictures the majesty and grandeur. You definitely get the sense that (Jupiter) is a very grand planet, but also very regal.”

Jacob Johnson, 15, of Greenfield, said the youth orchestra has been preparing for the May 7 concert since January. He plays the double bass, an instrument that resembles a cello, and said it was always a dream of his to join an orchestra. He joined the youth orchestra when it started three years ago.

“I think it’s great for us kids in the community to get together. There are a lot of string players in the area and we build a lot of good relationships when we’re all together,” he said, adding that he encourages other young people to audition. “I think it’s a very good idea if they play an instrument. It’s one of the best ideas for playing. An orchestra is probably the best way to play an instrument with a group of people.”

Jacob’s mother, Christine Johnson, who sits on the Pioneer Valley Symphony’s board of directors as its Youth Orchestra liasion, said she didn’t exactly have to twist his arm to join. She said Jacob was part of a string ensemble at Greenfield’s Artspace, which Brennand was also involved with, and the passion grew from there.

Christine said Jacob doesn’t play sports and the orchestra provides a team-like camaraderie enjoyed by young athletes. She said Jacob has expressed interest in eventually playing in an adult orchestra and it’s exciting to see her son have that aspiration.

A love for orchestra music must run in the family. Jacob’s older brother, Jesse, was a member until recently. He plays trumbone, as well as piano and violin.

“I loved it very much. I got introduced to a lot of really great music,” the 17-year-old said. “Trombone is not a very common instrument and not a very popular solo instrument, so (playing in an orchestra) is the best experience you can get with the trombone.”

The elder Johnson’s love of music has developed so much that he has decided to major in music education, with focus on piano, at Cairn University in Langhorne, Pa., near Philadelphia. His career goal is to work in a public school or college, though his dream is to become a film score composer. He credits the local youth orchestra with fostering these goals.

“If there are any young musicians out there wondering if they should join, I highly encourage it because it’s great experience,” he said. “There’s really nothing like playing in an orchestra. It’s a wonderful experience.”

Brennand, who has been with the Pioneer Valley Symphony since 2011, said the youth orchestra had a great deal of support.

“It was all the right people at the right time. Artspace had built up a strong string program,” he said, adding that he had a field of talent to pluck from. “The groundwork had been laid and it just seemed like the right time.”

Auditions for the youth orchestra are open to all student string, wind, brass, percussion, keyboard, and harp players, who are 18 and younger.

Rehearsals are held at Greenfield High School on Saturdays during the school year, from September to May.

“It’s been an incredible journey,” Brennand said. “We’ve grown the past few years, both in membership and musically.”

Anyone with questions can e-mail youth@pvso.org or call 413-773-1664. More information on joining the youth orchestra is available at: www.pvsoc.org 

You can reach Domenic Poli at: dpoli@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 257. On Twitter, follow @DomenicPoli