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Young musicians turn out for auditions

BY LAUREN P. DUNCAN lduncan@paducahsun.com

Even skilled violinists may find their first experience playing with a full orchestra to be a challenge.

The transition from playing only one-on-one lessons to performing in sync with a group is what some youth auditioning for the Paducah Symphony Youth Orchestra said is the most important benefit they hope to gain from this year's orchestra season.

"It's a great experience to learn how to play with a group as opposed to solo," said Aaron Silverstein, who is beginning his junior year in high school as a home school student in Paducah.

String auditions for the youth orchestra were held at Paducah Tilghman High School on Sunday afternoon. Fourteen junior high and high school-age youth gathered to present their skills on the violin, viola, cello and bass.

Steve Schaffner will direct the youth orchestra. He's been a violinist in the Paducah Symphony Orchestra for 24 years, and this is his second year directing the orchestra. The retired music teacher commutes from Cape Girardeau to lead the group, which he hopes will increase in size this year.

The youth orchestra has been held off and on over the years, but Schaffner is working with other volunteers to build it up.

"The schools, symphony and parents have bonded together to bring it back," he said.

Last year there were about 30 participating youth, but Schaffner hopes to see more than 40 this year. The youth orchestra includes mostly pre-teen and teenage students, although Schaffner said he's had students at age 11 who have the experience it takes to participate. He's also had Murray State University students who participate and help lead the group.

For even younger musicians, there's the Paducah Symphony Youth Orchestra Sinfonia, which is led by Patty Story and will hold auditions tonight at St. Mary High School. While the Sinfonia meets on Mondays, the youth orchestra meets on Sundays for two-hour practices every week. On Thursday, auditions were held for the youth and children's choir.

In November, auditions will be held for the youth orchestra's wind and percussion sections. Most students are tied up with marching band obligations during the fall semester, which Schaffner said he sees as a strong tradition in western Kentucky. Meanwhile, the young string players practice string theory during the fall.

Students who perform in the orchestra come from around western Kentucky and southern Illinois. Because many of the orchestra's participants have regular music lessons and other extracurricular activities in addition to the orchestra, Schaffner noted members must be committed.

"They have to be independently motivated to do this," he said. "The kids that do this are definitely dedicated. They're really high-caliber kids with highly involved parents."

Some of those youth said Sunday they're ready for the commitment. Silverstein was the concert master of the Paducah Symphony Youth Orchestra last year, and he hopes to hold that role again.

"It's a position of leadership I love," he said.

His younger sister, 15-year-old Lily Silverstein, has already shown her dedication by stepping in midseason last year to fill the role of the orchestra's sole pianist. Jumping into an orchestra that had been rehearsing for months was a challenging experience, Lily said, as she had to put collaboration with the band before perfecting a piece of music.

"It was really hard for me at first to play with that many people," she said. "It's a good learning experience."

Hannah Gibson, 14, came from Murray to try out for the orchestra for her first time. Gibson has been playing the violin for six years and has given up piano lessons and swimming in order to focus on the violin. She takes lessons with two instructors, one in classic violin and one in opry-style fiddle technique.

She said the Murray State University orchestra sometimes allows some high school-age students to play, but she wanted to take her skills to Paducah.

"I enjoy playing in orchestra, and I haven't had an opportunity to in Murray," she said. "I wanted to come here and be with people my own age."

Once upon a time, many public schools included string lessons or an orchestra featuring string instruments. Schaffner noted as that has disappeared, the youth orchestra in Paducah provides a chance for students to gain orchestra experience.

Although Schaffner is busy for most of the year leading the orchestra and working with youth, he said the PSO and the community have helped make the youth orchestra happen.

"We've got a great community that is very involved, and I'm very excited they see this as important," he said.

Auditions for the youth orchestra will be held again on Aug. 24.

Performance dates for the Paducah Symphony Youth Orchestra include a winter concert Dec. 7 at McCracken County High Schoool, a "side by side" performance with the PSO on March 14, 2015, at the Carson Center, a spring concert May 3, 2015, at the Carson Center and a performance May 16, 2015, at the Lower Town Arts and Music Festival.

Contact Lauren Duncan, Paducah Sun staff writer, at 270-575-8692 or follow @laurenpduncan on Twitter.

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