BY STEPHANIE ESLAKE
The Melbourne Youth Orchestras have made their mark on our classical music scene for a long time. Five decades, to be exact. This year marks the 50th anniversary of MYO, an institution bringing countless opportunities to young musicians of Victoria.
MYO has evolved to offer five major programs – the symphony orchestras, symphonic bands, string orchestras, outreach programs, and summer school – each with the mission of bringing emerging talent together in music-making.
Youth orchestras are a popular and beneficial past time for orchestral performers, and we speak to two young artists to learn what playing in a youth orchestra means to them. Michael Lo is the orchestra’s newest member having joined this year on trombone; while Ruby Shirres has played viola for seven years with MYO.
Michael Lo, trombone
Michael joined the Melbourne Youth Orchestras this year
Michael Lo started on piano and violin as a child, before learning the trombone at Blackburn High School, where he played with the school’s ensembles. After his VCE, Michael began studying science and music performance at the University of Melbourne. During this time, he played with a variety of ensembles including the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music Wind Symphony, Tallis Brass Ensemble, Victorian Youth Orchestra and the Melbourne Trombone Ensemble. This year, Michael commenced full time music studies at MCM as part of his pursuit to become a professional musician.
Michael, you’ve just joined the MYO this year. What was it that inspired you to be part of this orchestra?
I think youth orchestras have always been one of the stepping stones into a career as a professional orchestral musician. An opportunity to play in an orchestra every single weekend is just something I couldn’t pass up, especially with colleagues who have similar aspirations.
The educators and partnerships that MYO have were also what drew my attention when I was looking for groups to play with this year. So after a successful audition, I was more than happy to accept the position and play great music with great people.
You’ve performed in youth orchestras and ensembles in the past – how has your experience with MYO differed so far?
With MYO, I definitely feel that the members love orchestral music. They are the type of people who would listen to a symphony recording for fun and not just for an upcoming assessment. Other groups I have been involved with are a pleasure to play for, but I feel as though MYO gives some extra opportunities (whether it be a workshops or even complimentary tickets) to its members.
Why do you think it’s important to maintain an active performance career while you’re studying?
For me, the answer is simple. I’m studying performance, so the more playing I do inside or outside the university the better. Plus, it’s a lot of fun.
What are you hoping to gain from your experience with the MYO?
Building an awareness for the sounds in an orchestra takes time. Dedicating an entire Saturday afternoon every week is one of the best ways to improve not only individual playing and listening but also working as part of a team. Additionally, MYO has some really great repertoire this year. It would be an invaluable learning experience to have played the works with a full orchestra.
Ruby Shirres, viola
Ruby Shirres has performed with the Melbourne Youth Orchestras for seven years
Ruby plays violin across Bendigo and Melbourne music scenes. She has toured New Zealand with MYO and attends rehearsals in Melbourne every weekend. She has also been selected for the Australian Youth Orchestra National Music Camp and Young Symphonists programs. Ruby was selected as one of 30 string musicians to attend the ACO Academy in Brisbane, and was a finalist in the 2016 Melbourne Recital Centre Bach Competition.
Ruby, you’ve been part of the MYO for seven years – that’s amazing! Why did you join?
As a young person growing up in a very small country town, there was little opportunity to make music. Joining MYO not only meant getting on the 6.14am train with one parent or the other every Saturday morning for a few years, but it also provided me with the musical motivation that I needed.
So why have you stayed?
Weekly rehearsals mean a regular connection to great music and good friends. Both the social and musical aspects of orchestra have sustained me, and the incentive to travel the two hours to Melbourne and back each weekend. As a violist moving up the ranks, the repertoire has gone from three-minute string orchestra pieces to hour-long symphonies, but the joy each individual – myself included – uncovers in playing music with others is always the same.
Also, as each year goes by, the importance of my friends in music has increased. They keep me sane despite hectic weeks at school and are always keen for a nerdy chat about ‘daggy classical music’. Who knows, maybe we’ll be playing together when we’re 40?
What does the MYO bring to your musical life?
Orchestral playing is a vital part of a steep learning curve. For me, playing with other people is what inspires me, rather than the solo work in a practice room. MYO allows me to play key orchestral repertoire in an educational environment, which is very special. Leading the violas so far this year has been fun, and I find it interesting in terms of being a cornerstone of the essential communication necessary in an ensemble.
What are the most valuable lessons you’ve learnt through your time in the orchestra?
Effective communication can be the make-or-break of an ensemble. If everything has to be said using words, an ensemble falters, losing the ease it needs to function musically.
Learn more about the MYO and check out all upcoming gigs on the website.
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