Youth orchestra provides opportunity, friendship for young musicians

Youth orchestra provides opportunity, friendship for young musicians
High school students have the opportunity to perform and learn professional compositions with the youth orchestra.(Photo/WMPA)

By Laura Van Pate |

Starting in the 1970s, the Washington Metropolitan Youth Orchestra was created as a branch of the Washington Metropolitan Philharmonic Association and began inspiring high school age students to play their favorite music. Now led by music director Alberto Rodriguez, the youth orchestra allows high school students to play their favorite instruments such as violin, trumpet and percussion in front of a live audience. 

“[The] youth orchestra was created to allow high school students to play the instruments they love,” Rodriguez said. “While we’ve stuck with that goal, we’ve also established other goals such as giving kids who don’t have many opportunities a chance to join the orchestra.” 

Rodriguez, who’s a quarterfinalist for the Music Educator Award by the GRAMMY Foundation and the Recording Academy, grew up struggling financially and believes helping kids who have less opportunities is a pillar of the youth orchestra’s mission. 

“Because of my childhood situation, I didn’t realize I could do what I wanted to do with music until someone inspired me when I was in high school, so I want to give these kids the same opportunity to chase their dreams,” Rodriguez said. 

Rodriguez served for three seasons as the assistant conductor for WMPA and was formerly the director of orchestras at Mount Vernon High School in Alexandria. 

The youth orchestra has about 40 members and is playing pieces similar to professional musicians. According to WMPA’s website, many of the works performed by the orchestra include composers Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, Igor Stravinsky and Ludwig van Beethoven, just to name a few. 

“What’s amazing about the music that our kids play is that they can play pieces by well-known composers such as Beethoven and Bach, but they’re also playing more modern music that’s a part of some of their cultures such as playing pieces by a modern Hispanic composer Jose Alazado,” Rodriguez said. 

The students’ passion for music is something that makes the orchestra come alive, according to Rodriguez. 

“These kids love music, with some of them even composing their own songs,” Rodriguez said. “I think what’s great about not just our orchestra but youth orchestras, in general, is that they really teach these kids how amazing orchestra music can be and that it’s for everyone. We live in a day and age where the people that like orchestra music are getting older, and it’s great that these kids are showing the world that orchestra music is amazing.” 

Rodriguez also said the orchestra has had a positive impact on these kids outside of just music. 

“They’re making new friends that they wouldn’t have met if not for the orchestra. It’s great seeing the kids smiling and happy and knowing that you’re making a difference in their lives [is great],” Rodriguez said. 

The youth orchestra has an upcoming concert on February 11 at 3 p.m. at Bishop Ireton High School, and a lot of planning for the concert goes on behind the scenes. 

“The planning team works hard to set up the concerts from getting the right place to perform to making sure there’s enough seating,” Caroline Mousset, executive and artistic planning director of WMPA, said. 

All of the work the adults do for the youth orchestra is to make sure the kids can show off their musical talents.

Many high school students have a musical outlet with the youth orchestra. (Photo/WMPA)

“We really believe in these kids and we want them to use their musical gifts to the best of their ability and show off what they can accomplish,” Mousset said. 

WMPA is getting more popular with students joining and attending, according to Mousset. 

“Since Rodriguez got here, I’ve seen more students join. Attendance has also been great during concerts, as we have about 200 plus attendees,” Mousset said. “Attendance slowed down a lot throughout the pandemic, but I’m glad more people are starting to attend.” 

WMPA also has an orchestra for middle school-aged students – known as the Concert Orchestra, which started in 2008 – who want to get their foot in the door with music. This orchestra is led by Martin Garfield-Levine and prepares middle schoolers for the Youth Orchestra. The association is thinking about starting an orchestra for kids even younger than middle schoolers, as interest is growing for a new orchestra. 

“Who knows, maybe one day we’ll start an orchestra or at least a group for kids younger than middle school so that they can show off their love for music,” Mousset said. “It’s actually amazing because the Concert Orchestra is one of the only orchestras out there that [is] specific to middle school age students, and I think that really speaks volumes to how special our program is.” 

For more information on the youth orchestra’s schedule, you can visit wmyocalendar.html or follow their social media. Those interested in auditioning for the Youth or Concert Orchestras can also find more information on their website.