The Harbinger Online

Symphony in the Windy City

The Midwest Clinic, an international band and orchestra conference, hosts approximately 17,000 musicians and music-lovers in Chicago annually. This year the 106 members, including six East students, of the Youth Symphony of Kansas City Symphony Orchestra will be among them for the first time.

As the largest international music conference in the world, the Midwest Clinic draws attendees from all 50 states and 30 different countries, according to clinic representative Amy Paleise. In this, its 68th year, the conference still strives to promote musical education through instrument demonstrations, rehearsal labs and more. Attendees can visit different booths, exhibits and performances by 46 various ensembles from around the globe at the McCormick Place convention center from Dec. 17-20.

YSKC Symphony Orchestra director Steven Davis has attended the Midwest Clinic every year since 1991, save for the year he was conducting in Beijing. Confident that the 2013-2014 ensemble was properly prepared, Davis decided to have them apply for their first opportunity to perform at the clinic.

“I thought the group was finally ready to play at that prestigious event,” Davis said. “It’s a very, very difficult event to be accepted to. I thought the group was playing wonderfully and they were ready to play in that environment.”

The Symphony Orchestra, the most advanced of the four orchestras in the YSKC, is made up of 106 musicians, grades 9-12, from around the Kansas City area. Besides East, the musicians come from many high schools like Liberty and Blue Valley Northwest.

To be eligible to perform at the clinic, Davis and YSKC Executive Director Steven Murray had to complete a written application and send in both an audio and video recording of one of the symphony’s performances from earlier in the year.

After submitting their application in mid-March, the symphony finally received word in early April that they had been selected as the only youth symphony orchestra to perform at the conference.

“It was really cool to know that we’d be going to Chicago to play in a big symphony convention where there are tons and tons of people from all over the country coming to listen to the pieces,” sophomore trumpet player Nick Kashka said.

Since their selection, the YSKC Symphony Orchestra has started a new season and grown in size. September auditions for the current 2014-2015 season welcomed new musicians, including those from East like Kashka, junior violinist Ellie Stewart-Jones and junior cellist Meili Estep. The Midwest Clinic will be a new experience for them and even veteran musicians like senior flautist Rachel Kim, who has played in the Symphony Orchestra since her sophomore year.

While in the past the group has performed at conferences hosted by the Kansas and Missouri Music Educators Associations (KMEA, MMEA) and in a side-by-side concert with the Kansas City Symphony, their upcoming performance will be the first of its kind.

“The best youth ensembles on the planet play at this event,” said Davis. “It’s the most coveted event floor for any kind of youth ensemble in the world.”

Opportunities to play at the conference do not come around often. Each year only a handful of the thousands of applicants are selected and ensembles who have performed must wait five years before they can apply again. The YSKC Symphony Orchestra isn’t going to waste their opportunity.

From the beginning of their season, the symphony has been practicing Tchaikovsky’s Sixth Symphony every Sunday. Their three hour practices at the Gem Theater on 18th and Vine are spent diligently perfecting the 50 minute piece they will play in Chicago. The rest of the week is left for the students to practice on their own or with school bands.

“As soon as I finish homework when I get home I try to practice as much as I can on the piece,” Kashka said. “Usually I try to get two to three 30 minute sessions, so an hour if I can.”

Besides practicing their instruments in preparation for the trip, the symphony is also doing a fundraiser. Their goal of $36,498 is nearly halfway met as of Dec. 10 and this money will cover the costs of travel, hotel rooms and a couple of meals for the musicians. Donations can be made online on the YSKC website.

“We have a very lofty goal to hit, but we know that some of these gifts will come in after the performance actually does happen,” Murray said.

However, the symphony will travel to Chicago regardless of whether or not they reach their goal in time. They’ve worked hard and are ready to reap the benefits.

“It’s an experience like playing at some of the world’s greatest concert halls. Maybe it’s Carnegie Hall, maybe it’s even the Kauffman Center,” said Murray. “In there it’s not so much about the actual physical performance space, but rather it’s more about the impact and the level of import that this particular conference has throughout the music industry.”

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