Behind the notes

Students explore their experiences playing in youth symphonies

Megha Mummaneni

Photo courtesy of Clay Carson | Used with permission

As junior Noah Vin enters the Los Altos church, he sets down his cello case and gets ready to warm up. Every Sunday from 3:30 to 6:30 pm, Vin repeats this routine as a member of the Golden State Youth Orchestra. Vin recalls the first moment he stepped foot into the hall and saw the whole orchestra together.

“I think I remember the first moment. I was eight, so I was really young, and I was placed at the back of the section like [at] the bottom, but I just remember really liking it at first because my [cello] teacher actually knew [the conductor],” Vin said. “He also played the cello, and he was really nice and just supportive.”

[Clip credit: Noah Vin]

Junior Amy Zheng, a member of the California Youth Symphony, was initially inspired to play the cello after going to a museum and seeing someone play the instrument. However, her mom thought it was too big for her at the time, leading her to play the violin. 

She believes the best part of being in a symphony is being able to connect with different people and work together towards improving on everyone’s passion. Her favorite memory from the orchestra was when they went on tour during the summer of 2022.

“We were able to go on tour to Europe this summer. It was really amazing. I think we played four concerts at different halls across Europe,” Zheng said. “And it was really nice to connect to not being able to speak their language, and seeing such a huge cultural difference in the food and their festivities and everything. But being able to see them enjoy our music was really cool.”

[Clip credit: Amy Zheng]

Vin agrees with Zheng and finds that going on tour with GSYO to Germany, Czechia, and Austria was his favorite experience. Though he finds that sometimes the rehearsals get boring and feel tedious, he looks ahead to the end goal of making music and other benefits that come with being in the symphony. 

Zheng echoes Vin’s feelings but finds that sometimes things get less enjoyable, especially when seating auditions come around. 

“Seating auditions are very stressful,” Zheng said. “Basically, they give you the excerpts, maybe like a month ahead of time, you’ll have a month to practice, and then you’ll have like a five minute time slot to do your seating audition. And usually, it’s very, very stressful before, but afterwards, I always come out feeling pretty good. It’s just [that] before, it’s just very stressful, knowing that the five minutes will determine the seating for the rest of the year.”

Senior Clay Carson plays the flute and piccolo, as one of 12 flutes in the California Philharmonic Youth Orchestra. Though he’s in MVHS’s Wind Ensemble, Carson prefers playing in the symphony.

“I feel like the music is more interesting,” Carson said. “You can work on it more, and it’s harder, so you can have more solo opportunities and things like that. And also, it’s just more engaging. Band has a very specific musical style that is not classical music, but [the] youth orchestra plays more famous pieces by people like Beethoven and Tchaikovsky. And so I think that it gives more exposure to more famous pieces that are more purely classical rather than band, which is like its own style.”

[Clip credit: Clay Carson]

Overall, Vin also finds the experience rewarding and values the friendships he has made along the way, outside of school. 

“In the symphony I’ve met so many people and formed a lot of bonds and friendships,” Vin said. “Being able to make music with them is just a cool experience.”