Ten-year-old Evelyn Rowdabaugh enters the rehearsal room, rolling in a gong that’s taller than she is.
A percussionist for the Fort Wayne Youth Concert Orchestra, she remembers when she was younger how she would bang on anything she could. Now it’s her responsibility to do just that for the orchestra’s fall concert Sunday.
Finally set in the back of the room, she juggles the triangle and a pair of castanets, which makes a faint clicking noise during the orchestra’s first run of Charles-Camille Saint-Saën’s quick-tempo bacchanal.
Really hammer them next time, conductor Marcy Trentacosti says to Rowdabaugh from the front. It’s going to sound a lot different when you’re in the big hall.
Trentacosti knows plenty about playing the big hall. As a full-time violinist for the Fort Wayne Philharmonic for more than 30 years, she spends every Sunday with more than 50 students who make up the Youth Concert Orchestra. The concert orchestra is Philharmonic’s intermediate program that feeds into the more advanced Youth Symphony Orchestra for older students, which is conducted by Philharmonic’s principal trombonist, David Cooke.
The orchestras offer more education and performance opportunities for students who take private lessons or perform in their school’s ensembles.
Nearly 100 students who make up both orchestras will perform in the first fall concert for the season Sunday.
In the first half of the evening, the Youth Concert Orchestra will present favorites such as Aaron Copland’s Saturday Night Waltz and the traditional piece, Turkey in the Straw.
Cooke and the Youth Symphony Orchestra will conclude the evening with a selection from Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 and other works. He says the young musicians find solace in working with peers who are as dedicated as they are.
Cooke believes that connection will continue to support the arts for the next generation.
It changes the way you think about things, especially when you have something that makes you unique, Cooke says. I bypassed a lot of trouble because the trombone was my desire.
On the second run of the bacchanal piece, Rowdabaugh reaches for the castanets just a little quicker, her clicks more pronounced than the first time around. She has been playing percussion for three years.
It’s great to see students take something challenging and run with it. It’s gratifying, Trentacosti says. I choose a few pieces that are kind of challenging and then I pick a piece that is really challenging – I think that’s important. It models what we do in the (Fort Wayne Philharmonic) orchestra.
We get our music two weeks in advance. We have to spend three, four hours of our personal time to prepare before rehearsals, and they have to do the same thing.
Despite the Philharmonic’s more than $2.3 million deficit and current contract negotiations that could potentially reduce the number of full-time musicians and their salaries, the commitment to the organization’s youth programs appears to be strong.
The volunteer-based Friends of the Philharmonic has raised more than $40,000 since 2008 to assist students with private lessons and $250 annual tuition for the youth orchestra programs.
Sharon Linn, the Philharmonic’s director of education and community engagement, says a long-term goal is to develop more education programs that range from preschool students to adults.
You come to the smaller cities, orchestra programs are endangered for our young students, Trentacosti says. That’s why the Philharmonic needs to stay healthy so it can support our youth program. With music pulled out of schools, it has become the bottom of the food chain.
With the arts a victim to public school budget cuts, Trentacosti and Cooke say they visit classrooms and form relationships with public school music teachers. They want other instructors to see the youth orchestras as a supplement rather than a substitute to what they teach in the classroom.
We have a lot of fine teachers. We are really blessed; the average music teachers in our area are really good and really exceptional, but they do get busy. They may have classes, marching band – it’s really crazy how much they have to do, Cooke says. It doesn’t leave a whole of lot of time for an individualized approach.
For the most part, these kids are ready to go, technically speaking. I have the luxury that I can just work on the music rather than the building structure of notes. We can talk about where you want the musical line to move and where it’s going.
We have made a lot of headway with music directors in understanding our program so that we can help each other. The students get stronger and stronger and take that strength back to their schools. It’s a wonderful cycle.
Both conductors are aware that many of their young students will not pursue a professional career in music.
But Cooke, who is also the conductor for IPFW’s Community Orchestra, says that music builds a lifelong love. He says that will save the arts in the long run.
I have a great faith that they’ll come back, he says. So many people ask me to play in the Community Orchestra because they miss it. That kind of love instills itself in people, and even if they don’t do anything with it professionally, it builds a talent in them. It’s a cultural identity for them. Twenty years later, they are still itching to play.
For the ones who will go on to perform professionally, Trentacosti, who performed in anything she could growing up in Allentown, Pa., says there has to be an understanding of the sacrifices early on.
Unlike any other career, professional musicians are created as children. Beyond the tireless hours of obtaining a degree in music, and beyond the auditions and rejections, Trentacosti and Cooke still face the same kind of challenges that professional orchestra musicians confront across the country – trying to make a reasonable living off a lifelong passion.
But Trentacosti says that when she was younger, she knew from the moment she saw the Philadelphia Orchestra perform what she was going to do for the rest of her life.
Picasso didn’t live in luxury. That’s what makes artists unique. You just know what this world is, she says. You have to be willing to know that you not only have a responsibility as an artist, you have a responsibility to yourself to encourage the people who follow you.