Charlottesville Chamber Music Festival founders, Juilliard School graduates, members of Dave Matthews Band…scroll down the list of local musicians who have played in the Youth Orchestras of Central Virginia, and you won’t doubt the almost-40-year-old organization’s claim: “Music begins with us.”
“We’re the only opportunity in the community for young people who play winds and strings to play on the same stage,” says Carolyn Fitzpatrick, president of YOCVA’s board. Composed of two full symphony orchestras, a junior strings program, and flute and clarinet ensembles, YOCVA is open to musicians ages 10 to 18 who live in Charlottesville, Albemarle and neighboring counties.
“We have a group of very dedicated conductors and the program is a step stool that allows our musicians to go from one level to the next, from, say, junior strings in elementary or middle school, to the Evans Orchestra and finally the Youth Symphony,” Fitzpatrick says. Auditions typically happen in the spring and late summer, after which “the conductors get together and build their symphonies,” she says. “Don Brubaker [director of the Rita M. Evans Orchestra] says his job is to empty his orchestra every year, meaning he hopes all his musicians move up [to the Youth Symphony].”
Fitzpatrick’s daughter, Mary, did exactly that: She started out playing in YOCVA’s Flute Ensemble, made the Evans Orchestra as an eighth-grader and eventually earned a spot as the principal flute in the Youth Symphony, in which she played for three years.
“The orchestra is different from private lessons and school bands becauses it’s an orchestra, and it’s a voluntary activity where our entire focus is on playing and how to communicate that to an audience,” says Mary Fitzpatrick, now a freshman at Pittsburgh’s Duquesne University, where she’s studying music therapy. “[The orchestras] helped me learn to work with all kinds of people—homeschoolers, private school students—not just people from my school,” adds the Albemarle High grad, who says she met two of her best friends, one from Monticello High and the other from Western Albemarle, during her time in YOCVA.
In addition to performing at venues such as Old Cabell Hall three times a year, members of the orchestras can also be heard at a variety of community events, including Monticello’s holiday house
tours and its annual naturalization ceremony and First Night Virginia. They’ve also begun a musical collaboration with Computers4Kids, an area organization that brings technology to children who don’t have access to it at home.
And while playing in YOCVA isn’t cheap (it costs between $295 and $400, annually), Fitzpatrick says, “Our mission is no barrier to talent. If you have the talent, we will make sure it’s possible for you to play in our orchestras.”