By Gabriella Neal
Northwest Asian Weekly
Cindy Kim, 13, said she likes the Seattle Youth Symphony because she gets to play alongside others.
“You learn cool new pieces and you get to hear it with all the instruments,” said Kim. Student members of the Seattle Youth Symphony Orchestras (SYSO) not only learn about the great tradition of symphony music, but also are exposed to experiences that prepare them for the world beyond music.
Spanning four academic years, the SYSO accepts approximately 120 of the most talented and promising musical students in each orchestra cohort. Founded in 1942, SYSO is the largest youth symphony organization in the country — and one of the oldest — according to the Seattle Foundation.
The youth symphony has public school partnership programs that work with about 25 middle schools and elementary schools throughout the Pacific Northwest.
“In total, we serve about 1,700 students each year,” said Stephen Radcliffe, music director of the Seattle Youth Symphony Orchestras.
Radcliffe explained the youth symphony is a melting pot of youth, representing different ethnic backgrounds from all across the state and as far as Vancouver, B.C.
The Suzuki method
Born right before the turn of the century in 1898, Shinichi Suzuki was one of 12 children and grew up working in his father’s violin factory in Japan. Moved by violin music, but prevented from being instructed on it, Suzuki diligently taught himself the instrument as a young adult through music recordings.
Through the experience, Suzuki developed a life philosophy on the nature of talent, that it can be cultivated in any child. This was the basis of the Suzuki movement, also referred to as the Suzuki method.
With a large percentage of Asian American students attracted to the SYSO program, Radcliffe speculates that it came from Suzuki.
“The Suzuki method is a very popular way to teach violin,” said Yoshi Minegishi, symphony board member. As his teaching method became more and more popular, Suzuki toured the United States with his students. The Suzuki method eventually became a standard for teaching lessons to children.
There is a strong Suzuki presence in Seattle, said Radcliffe. “The program is nationally recognized for the quality of its educational curriculum, the quality of its music making, and for the remarkable graduates that not only perform in every major symphony program in the country, but are also leaders in areas of the arts and sciences,” said Radcliffe.
Prep for the future
Radcliffe explained that graduates of the program are now in various professions, many outside of music, and recognized the value of a rigorous music program that helped develop the necessary skills for any field of work.
“The skills that one learns in a high quality ensemble are intellectual focus, teamwork, creativity, problem solving, and self-esteem. These are what we call the habits of mind and contribute to one’s success in their personal and professional lives,” said Radcliffe.
Minegishi said the Seattle Youth Symphony Program trains students and teaches them the importance of being disciplined and the value of hard work and practice.
Youngsoon Joo’s daughter, Cindy Kim, has been playing the violin in the Symphonette Orchestra for two years.
Joo observed that her daughter and the other students in the program work together and help each other become better at their discipline. Everyone works hard individually and as a group.
Every parent, regardless of being Asian, recognizes that the youth symphony provides kids the opportunity to learn how to be independent — a necessary component of growing up and a part of personal development, said Joo.
Joo believes the experience of being a part of the youth symphony has allowed her daughter to understand the value of doing what you love and working in a group with similar interests. Overall, Joo hopes the music instruction and youth symphony will give her daughter a better quality of life in the long run.
Kim also said that playing an instrument has other benefits in her academic pursuit. She thinks music helps her focus in school and makes learning easier. In addition, the Symphonette Orchestra taught her the importance of time management, so that she is able to practice the violin and balance other responsibilities, said Kim.
Minegishi said he thinks the students learn more than just about music in the Seattle Youth Symphony program. He believes the organization teaches students leadership skills and how to be worldly, creative people and to be contributing members of society.
The Seattle Youth Symphony has an upcoming performance at Benaroya Hall at 3 p.m. on Sunday, Feb. 28. The top orchestra in the program will be performing and the top winner of the concerto competition will be playing a solo piece. (end)
Gabriella Neal can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.