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The Toronto Symphony Youth Orchestra Expands Its Skill Set This Season

January 20, 2021

Above: Robert and Marlene Ruderman listen to TSYO musician Joelle Crigger during their TSOUND CONNECTIONS visit with her in June 2020.

by Anna Maria Moubayed, TSYO Violin

The TSO’s 89-member youth orchestra attracts some of the most talented students in the province. Anna Maria Moubayed, an 18-year-old TSYO member and a journalism student at Ryerson, shares her perspective on this unusual season of learning and performing. This is her second season in the TSYO. 


In the absence of a normal 2020/21 fall season, rehearsals, and performances, TSYO members were concerned that their year would be all but lost. Fortunately, the TSYO staff and coaches found other ways to engage, train, inspire, and nurture the musical talents of this season’s 89 young musicians. Through the fall season, weekly workshops and masterclasses were created to prepare members, not just for playing music, but also for life as a musician. 

These weekly sessions included many special-guest speakers including RBC Resident Conductor & TSYO Conductor Simon Rivard; Barrett Principal Education Conductor & Community Ambassador Daniel Bartholomew-Poyser; the Executive Director of Room 217 Foundation, Bev Foster; TSO Viola Gary Labovitz; and the TSO’s Vice-President of Communications, Sally Szuster, among others.

“Never in a million years would we have had the opportunity to be taught by so many professionals about such a wide array of things relating to music that actually aren't performance,” said TSYO Violin Liliana Mahave, 16.

Bev Foster conducted a workshop in which she demonstrated the music-care approach created by the Room 217 Foundation, which encourages the use of sound and music as a holistic and human healthcare solution. The organization develops products and programs specially designed for music in care. They also train caregivers on how to integrate music into healthcare practices. 

“Seeing music from a neuroscience point of view is very interesting to me. I’ve been considering going into that kind of field because I like medicine and science, and helping people, but I also love music and playing the violin,” said first-year TSYO member Cynthia Ding, 15.

The workshop made clear the relationship between music and people, as well as the therapeutic powers music can have, expanding its application beyond the world of performance.

Above: Many members of the orchestra were inspired by the workshop and volunteered to participate in the TSOUND CONNECTIONS program, which pairs musicians with isolated seniors in a one-to-one musical performance and conversation.

“It's not a topic that people talk about a lot. So having someone come in and talk to us about it, and give us details and open some doors, was a really good experience,” said Cynthia.

“Since we don’t have any live concerts, we’re having a hard time sharing our music with other people. So it’s an amazing opportunity, especially during these times, to be able to share your music and connect with people,” said TSYO Violin Donna Mahboubi, 16, who is participating in the TSOUND CONNECTIONS program.

In another workshop, TSO Viola Gary Labovitz demonstrated the Alexander Technique to the members of the TSYO with a modern twist—online, through a screen! The Alexander Technique is a method of changing faulty postural habits and often requires the trainer’s physical guidance. However, in the pandemic world, the workshop was adapted to fit the virtual world. Even so, the participants really enjoyed it. “It helps your posture, and it helps us become more well-rounded musicians because it’s not always about playing the right notes at the right time. There are also a lot of different aspects that go into becoming a musician that are often ignored,” said Donna.

A Zoom call between TSYO members and their TSO musician mentors

Above: Every week, the members of the TSYO get to enjoy a masterclass led by TSO coaches. Focusing on a different instrument each week, TSYO members get one-on-one attention from a professional in the field to further strengthen their performance and technique as a musician. 

“With TSO Violin Peter Seminovs, we talked about different techniques that are specific to solo performances, which was very different from what we usually learn in an orchestra. It was very unique, and I really enjoyed it,” said Lilliana who performed a Wieniawski Polonaise.

Running an orchestra online is not ideal, but the TSYO’s faculty and staff are more involved and engaged than ever in an effort to keep the orchestra’s spirit alive.

TSO Bass Paul Rogers coaches TSYO Basses Jayden D’Costa (playing) and Eugene Zhang over ZoomAbove: TSO Bass Paul Rogers coaches TSYO Basses Jayden D’Costa (playing) and Eugene Zhang.
 
“It’s so exciting to be able to play with a bunch of musicians who share your love for music. We’re all nerds for music and we’re not afraid to show it. It’s nice to be able to communicate with people who have the same passion as you,” said Donna.

 


TSOUND CONNECTIONS is generously sponsored by The Azrieli Foundation and TD Bank Group. The TSYO is grateful for the support of the Toronto Symphony Volunteer Committee, The Barrett Family Foundation, The William and Shirley Beatty Foundation, and many other donors whose generosity continues during this time.

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