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Marcus Chan playing the double bass

Celebrating 50 Years of the TSYO

Personal reflections on music, memories, and the history of one of Canada’s premier youth orchestras
October 31, 2023

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 has been 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 musician Marcus Chan.

NW: When were you a part of the TSYO, and what instruments did you play? 

Marcus: My first year with the TSYO was the 2021/22 season, and I play the Double Bass.

NW: How did you get involved with the TSYO?

Marcus: Before coming to Canada three years ago, I was the principal Double Bass in the Hong Kong Youth Symphony Orchestra and the Hong Kong Youth Symphonic Band. I first moved to Saskatchewan and then later to Toronto, but I was already researching whether or not Toronto had a youth orchestra. I found myself on the TSYO webpage and immediately wanted to apply. I passed the audition, and I was even promoted to Principal Double Bass in the second half of the 2022-23 season.

TSO & TSYO Side-By-Side, Double Bass Section, 2023

NW: What are some of your most cherished memories and experiences from your time with the TSYO?

Marcus: From my experience, the weekly rehearsals have been some of the best moments of my time at the TSYO—it’s a way to escape reality. We can just enjoy the music, enjoy the rehearsal, and spend time with our friends. We all have a similar interest in music, and it is a harmonious environment. It feels like one big family and has become my second home. Ironically enough, being a part of the TSYO has brought me closer to my family in Hong Kong, as they always look forward to hearing about my performance and seeing photos and videos posted online. 

One standout moment performance for me was the side-by-side concert we did with the TSO earlier in 2023. It's great to learn from musicians in the TSO, and I was lucky enough to play beside Jeffrey Beecher, the TSO’s Principal Double Bass. One thing I learned from him was how to be a communicative section leader. In a performance, you need to know how to lead without speaking. I learned so much from him, especially when it comes to body language and how to use it to communicate with your colleagues on stage.

NW: How has being a part of the TSYO influenced your personal growth?

Marcus: Being a part of the TSYO has taught me so much about what it means to be a musician. I’ve learned a lot regarding the professionalism behind the career and also how to be a leader. Watching the TSO musicians on-stage and off-stage during our side-by-side performances was informative and provided a good insight into life as a professional musician. Learning how they prepare for their concerts, and after the performance, how they evaluate it was incredibly insightful. You play a program, maybe three or four times a week, so you can’t let your guard down. You have to deliver a professional performance night after night, so it was interesting to see this in real-time.

I’ve also been able to take my leadership experience and apply it in other parts of my life, whether it be work, school, or even in the music camp in Hong Kong! Being a leader, you always want a harmonious environment, and it’s important to communicate with your colleagues and your team. I’ve learned so much from my time as a section leader on how to do this.

TSYO group photo at MusicFest in Niagara Falls, 2023

NW: What are you most excited about this upcoming season?

Marcus: I’m excited about the exchange this year, the trip to Cleveland! This will be my first time going to the States, and I can’t wait for the experience and the concert with the Cleveland Orchestra Youth Orchestra. The chance to see the Cleveland Orchestra is also something I’m looking forward to as well. It’ll also be fun traveling with the orchestra, especially if it’s by bus. 

I'm eagerly anticipating the upcoming side-by-side concert with the TSO this season. We are performing the entirety of Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 4. The experience of playing on-stage alongside a professional orchestra for the entire symphony will be a one-of-a-kind memory.