For many attending the upcoming celebration of the Shenandoah Valley Youth Symphony’s 25 years at Eastern Mennonite University, the event will bring back memories.
The concert, which is Sunday, March 22, at 4 p.m. in Lehman Auditorium, includes music composed by alumnus Anthony VanPelt, a local musician, composer and teacher, and several alumni musicians joining the ensemble. Alumni, parents of alumni and past conductors of the symphony will be recognized, with a reception following. A $7 donation in support of the youth symphony is requested.
The Youth Symphony includes 42 members with students from Rockingham, Augusta, Shenandoah, and Page counties as well as West Virginia. The Junior Strings ensemble is an intermediate-level group with 13 members from Harrisonburg and Rockingham County.
Both groups are part of Eastern Mennonite University’s Preparatory Music Program, which was started by Wanda Teague Alger`81 in her local music store. It became a part of the university’s music department in 1989. The orchestra formed in 1990, partly funded by a grant from the Virginia Commission for the Arts.
For two women who have been involved in the program for years, the opportunity is especially unique.
“It is rewarding to look back and see the hundreds of students who have been involved in the symphony,” says Sharon M. Miller, who has been a violin-viola teacher since 1989, program director since the orchestra’s first year in 1990, and conductor of the Junior Strings ensemble since its inception in 2001. “Most students in our area would not otherwise have the chance to participate in such a group and play some of the great music written for orchestra. And it’s exciting to know that an organization with a small beginning has grown into what it is today and is still vibrant.”
“Some students that have passed through the youth symphony program choose to continue music as a profession,” says Maria Lorcas, symphony conductor since 2002. “Others move on to different careers, but no matter what path they choose, music remains in their souls and helps them to become better individuals.”
The program features “Symphony No. 1” by Mozart and several selections from the musical, “Fiddler on the Roof,” played by the Junior Ensemble; and several selections by the symphony, including “Overture to Nabucco” by Verdi; the “Russian Easter Overture” by Rimsky-Korsakoff; and the first movement from the “Violin Concerto in E Minor” by Mendelssohn, featuring soloist Lillian Hughes.
Lillian, a senior at Eastern Mennonite School, describes her solo as “mournful” and “wistful,” with a “beautiful soaring melody” and a “virtuosic ending.”
The daughter of Chris and Mary Hughes, Lillian has studied violin for 13 years through the Shenandoah Valley Preparatory Music Program and been a member of the symphony for six years, serving as co-concertmaster for the past two years. She currently studies with Joan Griffing.
She first soloed as a 5-year-old, playing “See the Pretty Flowers” for a preparatory music program spring recital. The experience was memorable, she says: “I remember being horribly nervously beforehand, but it all turned out fine in the end.”
Lillian has gone on to great success in her musical auditions, which have resulted in selections in two All-State Orchestras and one All-State Chorus, four Senior Regional Orchestras, and the Virginia Governor’s Summer School for the Performing Arts. She plans to study music and biochemistry in college.
This special celebration concert will also feature a work written by local teacher and composer Anthony VanPelt, who was a member of the youth symphony for its first five years. The ensemble will perform the first movement from VanPelt’s “New Market.”
In addition, the symphony will perform the winning composition from the New Music for Young Musicians Composers Competition held at James Madison University this year. The chosen work, “Remember Who You Are”, was written by Chris M. Cerreto, a current JMU student.