Playing a musical instrument is known as a “whole brain activity,” lighting up all major cognitive areas; the research into its role in cognitive development has been widely discussed. Connecting to music at an early age can set students on a path of achievement as they see the long-term benefits of deliberately working hard towards the transformationing goal of performance. These benefits are only intensified when children are members of an ensemble like the Fort Worth Youth Orchestra, who will perform Dvořák’s 9th Symphony side-by-side with the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra Saturday January 27th at Bass Hall at 2pm.
The Youth Orchestra’s Musical Director, Maestro Germán Gutiérrez, has been with FWYO for 18 years and has taught at TCU since 1996. As part of the festivities, Gutiérrez will be joined by three generations of players, conductors, and alumni of the institution which dates back to 1912, a living embodiment of the way music is passed from masters to apprentices, who eventually teach generations to come. As a matter of fact, FWSO’s newly-appointed Associate Conductor Alejandro Gómez Guillén started with Gutiérrez and the Youth Orchestra as a teen and returns this year to conduct.
Maestro Gutiérrez and Executive Director Lee Warren are always looking for new young ears to add to their community. They see it as their responsibility to inspire the next generation of musicians to pick up instruments, because when they do, they become better students, patrons of the arts, and truly global citizens. The Suzuki String and Piano program starts as early as two and three years old, as players begin to forge their relationship with music. Just over 300 students participate in the Junior String Orchestra, Junior Philharmonic, and the FWYO with another 50 in Suzuki, which gives the younger students something to work towards as they see the other groups working together. Warren recalls her own son telling her after his first rehearsal, “Mom, I want to do this every day for the rest of my life.” The program graduates about 30 Seniors each year, and about half of those go into the field of music. Others excel in math and science and music remains central to their lives.
All participants audition and are placed based on their abilities regardless of age. As most high school orchestras do not have the personnel for complete romantic symphonies, when they arrive in the Youth Orchestra, the students know they get to play real music under the leadership of Gutiérrez. He explains his approach, “I treat the students all the same. I believe they will all be the best musicians. To inspire them to be the best at their instrument, I treat them like professionals. The point is to demand the best, and you can hear it in the performance.”
Pairing the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra with members of the Youth Orchestra provides the students the invaluable experience of sitting beside a master, as Alejandro Gómez Guillén recalls from his own experience. “There’s no book or workshop to substitute for watching how they are with their instrument after literally thousands more hours in practice. For me, it was things like feeling how they tune their instrument or how they draw the bow across the strings.” Guillén joined the FWYO as a teenager on violin, but it was not until a required conducting course at TCU under Gutiérrez that his desire to conduct came alive. “It is truly the ultimate form of communication.” There is an invisible magic held in the magnetic silence of a music hall awaiting the first stroke of the conductor’s baton. For those who have given their lives to music, it is a sacred space that represents the moment before they are subsumed by its energy.
Guillén adds, “Symphonies have a responsibility to inspire. And when these two orchestras play together, it will be their unique version of Dvořák’s 9th.” The education and preparation can be reduced for the conductor as studying the difference between actively hearing and passively listening, which opens the mind to broader understanding of tolerance and diplomacy, further underscoring the way in which music acts as the great equalizer across class and culture. To that end, the FWYO travels to perform for international audiences, most recently exploring Salzburg, Vienna, and Prague. This allowed the students to perform and see the world of many favorite composers like Mozart and Beethoven. The mental discernment inherent to the process of traveling and performing translates naturally to human connection, emphasizing the importance of dialogue to success in all endeavors.
Tickets to the performance are available here and cost between $8 and $35. In addition, the Fort Worth Youth Orchestra will host a special Green Room Experience, including box tier seating and the opportunity to eat lunch and mingle with three generations of conductors and violinists, starting at 12:30p. For more information, please call 817-923-3121.
An Austin native, Lyle Brooks relocated to Fort Worth in order to immerse himself in the burgeoning music scene and the city’s rich cultural history, which has allowed him to cover everything from Free Jazz to folk singers. He’s collaborated as a ghostwriter on projects focusing on Health Optimization, Roman Lawyers, and an assortment of intriguing subjects requiring his research.