The Steamboat Springs Youth Orchestra's registration period ends Saturday. Applicants should be mailed to P.O. Box 774079, Steamboat Springs, CO 80477. The registration fee is $15. A year-long membership to the youth orchestra costs $500; scholarships are available. Call 879-9008, ext. 107, or visit www.steamboatorch... for more information.
The Steamboat Springs Orchestra's youth program is for education and outreach. It's also for preservation.
"As much as we love playing this music, if we don't have an audience to hear it, it can't survive," said John Fairlie, executive director of the Steamboat Springs Orchestra and conductor for SSO's youth orchestra. Registration for the youth program's first full season ends Saturday.
"In my own mind, I think the future of classical music in this world is dependant on programs for youth," Fairlie said.
Orchestra rehearsals start in early September and will be held every Monday from 4:15 to 5:45 p.m. at Steamboat Springs High School. The time slot will allow students from outside of Steamboat to attend, Fairlie said.
In the absence of orchestra programs in the public schools, the SSO youth program allows young string players in Steamboat Springs and surrounding areas to get the experience of ensemble play - an activity, Fairlie said, that has all the benefits of team sports.
"The idea was that we wanted to get these kids an opportunity to have someplace to play," he said.
Mary Anne Gunn, whose 10-year-old son, Willy, was the orchestra's concertmaster last year and plans to enroll again, said the ensemble is a break from Willy's usual activities. It's just a matter of finding time for lessons and rehearsals in between soccer, football, skiing, swimming and everything else available to him.
"So much of it is focused on sports in our community because of our active lifestyle, and this is just an amazing different avenue," Mary Anne said.
Willy is a fifth-grader at Lowell Whiteman Primary School, where he takes orchestra twice a week. He said the SSO youth orchestra is cool because it's big - with drums and cymbals - and the music is loud and fast.
"For some reason, they like fast music," said Teresa Steffen Greenlee, Willy's violin teacher and the conductor of the youth orchestra's first iteration.
The current youth string orchestra grew in 2006 out of a collection of small chamber ensembles, and had a three-month run in the spring. While the large ensemble is mostly geared toward string players and is set up on an intermediate level, small ensembles still are available for wind players and more advanced students.
Greenlee, who was the only trained string teacher in town when she conducted the first youth orchestra years ago, said there are now enough children taking lessons to be developed players.
"We have enough educators to support it better," she said.
Fairlie, who was the executive and music director of the Greater New Orleans Youth Orchestra before moving to Steamboat in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, said orchestra programs were not common in Crescent City schools when he started with GNOYO.
But as the youth program grew, so did demand for school orchestras. Fairlie said he hopes that kind of demand eventually will build in Steamboat.
Compared to youth orchestras elsewhere - which in larger towns and cities boast major repertoire and complex audition processes, and draw on students who have daily orchestra instruction at school - the SSO youth program is in its early stages. Eventually, Fairlie said, he'd like to have an advanced, full orchestra in addition to an intermediate one.
For now, "all children who are musically qualified are welcome to play with us," he said.
There's a short application and no audition. Program organizers check in with private teachers and band directors for each student's playing level.
As more schools cut the arts from their budgets, fewer children are exposed to them, Fairlie said.
"Even the music on the radio doesn't have the complexity that it did when I was young," he said. "If we don't expose kids to the magic of Beethoven, they're never going to hook into it. It's critical that we educate young people on this art form."
The impact is lasting, Fairlie said, based on his experiences with students in New Orleans. Of the players he has kept in touch with, many of them don't play their instruments anymore. But they wouldn't miss a classical performance.
"They've gotten it; their lives have been enriched," he said.