A lot can happen in 50 years, and in memories, everything is set to music. This season, the Toronto Symphony Youth Orchestra (TSYO) celebrates its 50th anniversary as one of Canada’s leading youth orchestra training programs. This monumental achievement reflects the TSYO’s unique position in the Toronto Symphony Orchestra’s mission to cultivate the next generation of talented musicians at the highest level. Over the last 50 years, the TSYO has been making memories in every note, every performance, and in every creative connection. Throughout this season, Noteworthy will be sifting through these memories to both rediscover the TSYO’s storied history and get a glimpse of what the future holds. This journey continues with TSYO alumni Joshua Zung.
NW: When were you a part of the TSYO, and what instruments did you play?
Joshua: I was a member of the TSYO from 2012 to 2017, and I played the clarinet.
NW: How did you get involved with the TSYO?
Joshua: I started playing the clarinet at the age of nine when I had to pick an instrument for school band. All three of my siblings played violin so, wanting to differentiate myself, I began taking lessons for clarinet through the Royal Conservatory of Music program. Getting into TSYO was a big goal of mine from a young age, as it was known to be the premier training program for orchestra musicians in Toronto.
NW: What are some of your most cherished memories and experiences from your time with the TSYO?
Joshua: I remember most vividly the performances where I had solo or exposed parts. Rimsky-Korsakov’s Capriccio Espagnol, Sibelius Symphony No. 1, and Tchaikovsky Symphony No. 6 come to mind because they all featured the clarinet at certain moments. These pieces gave me an excellent opportunity to showcase what I’d learned throughout my years on the instrument. It was also so much fun playing with other clarinet players, especially when playing duets.
I have fond memories of Keith Atkinson, who was the Woodwind Coach and the Associate Principal Oboe of the TSO during my time with the TSYO. He was really inspiring because we followed a similar path; he started off on clarinet before moving to the oboe, and I’ve done the same to a certain extent. Even if I was stressed about the music, Keith was always encouraging and would fill me with confidence to do my best.
Lastly, I would be remiss if I did not mention camp weekend, even though it was technically a boot camp! I don’t think I’ve ever played as much clarinet as I have during these weekends. We’re usually given a challenging piece in the first semester, and the camp weekend was an excellent way for us to start piecing it all together, first with sectionals and then as an orchestra. One fun thing we always did was choir practice, where we tried to keep our groove as an ensemble with our instruments. It was great to spend a few nights every year with the rest of the group outside of the rehearsal environment and get to know them on a personal level.
NW: How has being a part of the TSYO influenced your personal growth?
Joshua: I work in tax law right now. Tax law is all about interpreting complex rules and applying them, sometimes in creative ways, to a particular case. In some ways it is similar to music, where you are given a score but have some artistic licence to determine how to phrase it and bring out its character. I would attribute my creativity, work ethic, and attention to detail in large part to my upbringing in music.
While music is not my profession, it will always be a big part of my life. I play B-flat/A/E-flat clarinet, oboe, English horn (or suona, a Chinese double-reeded trumpet) in a ton of different groups, wherever needed. This year, I will be playing concerts with the Hart House Orchestra, Toronto Chinese Orchestra, Kindred Spirits Orchestra, North York Concert Orchestra, and the Oakville Symphony. I have also recently started playing in musicals, which is something I’ve wanted to do since high school. I think all my years of experience, starting from the TSYO, have allowed me to adapt to new instruments and become an effective orchestra musician.
NW: As an alumnus, do you have any advice for current and future members of the TSYO?
Joshua: Make connections and get to know your colleagues in TSYO; your orchestra friends will be really helpful in getting further opportunities down the road. My advice would also be simply to play and enjoy as much music as you can. I have kept all my orchestra parts over the years, and my markings on these scores contain helpful information that can be reused if I play the parts again. Playing a wide variety of repertoire at a young age has especially been rewarding for me now that I play different instruments since I can experience the same pieces from a new perspective. There are many times where I played the clarinet part in TSYO and now get to relearn the piece on oboe or English horn. The experience and exposure you get from playing with the TSYO is second to none, and it’s a really special experience.