Orchestrating a broader musical world in the Claremont Young Musicians Orchestra

Watch and listen. Each note of a symphony jumps off the page to build a piece of art. Each member of an orchestra plays to build a cohesive unit. And violinists senior Victoria Chang,  and juniors Elsie Lin and Daniel Munoz play as parts of a whole in the Claremont Young Musicians Orchestra (CYMO).

Founded in 1989 by Roger and Janet Samuel, CYMO offers a multitude of instrumental performance opportunities for students between ages 12 and 20. The program is divided into beginner, intermediate and advanced orchestras based on skill level, allowing students to perform various pieces that require specific skill sets.

“In the Claremont Program, you can benefit because all the musicians there are either better than you or the same [level] as you,” Chang said. “You get to meet people who have the same passion as you, and you obviously have to practice for the audition and contribute time.”

Students undergo three different stages of the audition process in which their skills are evaluated by a panel of judges. Candidates are sent four excerpts of classical music, with each excerpt corresponding to a certain difficulty level. To audition for the advanced orchestra, performers must play all four excerpts.

“It was pretty nerve-wracking because it was my first audition for the highest orchestra, and I didn’t feel the most prepared because I hadn’t necessarily put in the amount of effort I wanted to. But, I was pleased to find out I did make it,” Munoz said. “It is really just being able to focus on what you are really there for.”

To prepare for the rigor of the program’s music selections, members are next asked to play a three to four-minute solo. The audition culminates in a sight-reading exercise in which performers read a piece of music they have never seen before for 30 seconds before playing.

“The hardest part is the sight-reading,” Chang said. “The least stressful part is when I play my solo piece because the excerpts they can judge [are all the same], but, [for] the solo piece, we all play different pieces.”

CYMO practices every Sunday from 6:30 to 9:30  p.m. at Claremont High School throughout the school year. During rehearsals, program directors allot time for rehearsing new pieces while helping the orchestra play more cohesively.

“[The program has] taught me how to work better with other musicians, play better and learn how to play harder music,” Lin said. “Each rehearsal is a little different because, based on the last rehearsal, the conductor decides on what needs to be improved on, or what parts we can skip if it sounds good from last week. So we focus on different parts that need improving each week.”

Throughout the first five months of the year, CYMO holds free concerts for the public as a service to the community. It performs at the Bridges Hall of Music in Pomona College, working to introduce varying genres of music to areas that have little exposure to music.

“Giving back to the community is something that should always be prioritized in whatever you’re doing. It’s just something to show that you care. We want to spread our music to other areas [and] keep the tradition [of classical music] alive,” Munoz said.

Working with CYMO, performers are able to both challenge themselves with new music while also forming close bonds with musicians of similar caliber.

“It’s really nice to make all these different connections with the people there because it’s such a big group to share experiences with,” Munoz said. “The passion that everyone has there really comes down to who you’re spending your time with. You’re making all these relationships with everybody whether you like music or not. You may find out you have similar interests and you find a way to make a connection.”

By Isaac Le and Mia Nam, Staff writers
Photo by Mia Nam