For nearly 50 years, the Fairfax County-based American Youth Philharmonic Orchestras have offered an opportunity for orchestral training and performance to young musicians. But the AYPO also does something very special as a champion of giving back to the community; it offers a unique program called the Music Buddies Mentorship Program.
Music Buddies enables older members of AYPO to provide free, weekly private music lessons to younger students who might not be able to afford them. There also are scholarships available to ensure that a talented musician can join the AYPO, regardless of ability to pay.
Peggy Adams, AYPO chair, noted that while the organization “provides the highest-quality musical experience that allows our students to grow as musicians and individuals, it is extremely important that we give back to the community and to public schools.”
“We want to help those musicians who cannot afford quality music instruction lessons. Through the Music Buddies program we carefully match our students who want to become mentors with students nominated by their public school teachers to become mentees,” Adams said.
According to Adams and Jack Walton, AYPO executive director, the Music Buddies program provides eight months of free, weekly private music instruction to those who might not be able to afford regular private lessons. The lessons are given by trained AYPO musicians interested in mentoring other students. Mentors receive training from a professional music educator every one to two months on how to teach younger musicians.
This year mentors provided over 800 free, 30-minute music lessons to several dozen mentees. When asked why they wanted to be mentors, the responses were enlightening.
“I wanted to be a mentor because I wanted to help those who desired to learn. I knew that music lessons could be expensive and it s not easy to learn without a teacher,” said Iris Lim, a violinist.
For violinist Esther Yoon, “It has been a truly unforgettable and gratifying experience. By becoming a backbone and providing persistent support for these kids, they have in return taught me how to challenge myself even further, both as a musician and as a fellow community member.”
Katja Yeager, a violinist, said “the most rewarding part of being a mentor is seeing the student succeed. For Lydia Sohn, a cellist, “I wanted to be a mentor because I wanted to share the joy of music with others.”
Nearing its 50th anniversary, the AYPO is noted for presenting classical music concert performances at a near-professional level of musicianship and artistry. “This is not your run-of-the-mill youth orchestra by any means,” said Walton, as he described the musicians in a recent interview.
Music director and conductor Daniel Spaulding spoke proudly of “the passion that these young musicians bring to each and every performance.” They have performed in prestigious concert halls including Meyerhoff Symphony Hall in Baltimore and the Kennedy Center. The group also is the Youth Orchestra in Residence at George Mason University.
“The American Youth Philharmonic Orchestras are helping to make classical music vibrant and meaningful to a whole new generation of young people. Only a handful of the musicians in our program will become professional musicians, and their life experiences in AYPO will help them to succeed and in so many facets of their careers,” Spaulding said.
As the school year comes to a close, the organization will have two special musical events. On June 3, AYPO will have a “Grand Finale” concert at the Center for the Arts, George Mason University. “There will be great works of classical music performed by dedicated and inspired young people, at a truly professional level,” Spalding said.
On June 4, there will be the annual Music Buddies Showcase Recital. This performance is an opportunity for Music Buddies participants to share their musical accomplishments with an audience.
The American Youth Philharmonic Orchestras was selected by the 2011-2012 Catalogue for Philanthropy as “one of the best small nonprofits in the Greater Washington region.”
In inviting others to hear the season’s final musical events, “We are really training the creative minds of the future; it is wonderful to behold. Our musicians are such very talented, focused individuals,” Adams said.