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It's a family affair - in concert

Ypsilanti Youth Orchestra concert features Loeschers in a quartet written for them

Monday, April 10, 2006
News Staff Reporter

The Ypsilanti Youth Orchestra was created to give area children who otherwise wouldn't have the chance, the opportunity to play with a full orchestra. After opening its arms to musicians from an ever-widening area over the past seven years, the orchestra has grown closer and closer.

That fact is not surprising, considering the family element and atmosphere fostered by co-founders William Hayes and Bernard Galler.

The family-friendly nature of the orchestra will be on full display at its season-ending concert May 7, which features Ypsilanti's Loescher family in a wind-piano quartet.

Sixteen-year-old Luke and 15-year-old Mira joined the orchestra four years ago and were joined a year later by their mother, Amy, and 13-year-old sister Kristen. They have played together for family at Christmas, but performing in front of several hundred people will be quite a step up.

"In order to get them to be recognized as a family, I wrote this piece for them,'' Hayes said. "It's not a big piece, but it does show the variety of instruments in the family and the age range.''

The piece is titled "Swan Song'' and will feature Amy on the clarinet, Luke on the trombone, Mira (who plays violin for the orchestra) on the piano and Kristen on the oboe.

The Loescher children are home schooled, which makes practicing with the orchestra on Saturday mornings less of a sacrifice and more of a pleasure.

The Loeschers are a musical family, with two more children set to join the orchestra next fall. Not only do they enjoy the opportunity to play with the orchestra, they also enjoy the atmosphere that Galler and Hayes have created.

"I really enjoy Mr. Hayes, the way he's always relaxed and not pushing us,'' Mira said. "He'll push us some, but it's not now, now, now. He's really gentle and relaxed about it.''

The relaxed atmosphere is notable at practice sessions, where children will rush in to tell Hayes about their weekends or chat with their friends. Others just can't wait to play.

The Loeschers are by no means the only family to participate in the orchestra, either at present or in the past. "We've had several families and they stick with us, because whenever they start, they go all the way through high school,'' Galler said. "If they like the orchestra, they stay with us and we're happy to have them.''

Currently, the orchestra enjoys the presence of three generations of players from one family. Lincoln Middle School student Aviva Neff plays flute and has been joined by her mother, Heather, and her grandmother, Alma Mayson. Mayson plays piano for the orchestra and is a retired music teacher. Heather is a professor at Eastern Michigan University, and helps mentor the viola section.

Hayes and Galler never let an adult take the place of a child, but always welcome family members to fill the gaps in the group. Hayes has found the adults to be a positive influence for children in their particular sections.

"Bernie plays in the second violin section, most of the time, so, he coaches and watches the youngsters in that section,'' Hayes said. "Heather has been quite responsible for the viola section. It works very well.''

Hayes and others also have been excited this season by the percussion section, which is the biggest the orchestra has ever had. It also features two pairs of fathers and sons, who also happen to be next-door neighbors.

Father and son Michael and Michael Jones team up with Paul and Anthony DiPirro, and one other youth, to form the percussion section at the rear of the orchestra. Jones siblings Emily (violin) and Patrick (trumpet) also play in the orchestra.

"It is a family feeling,'' Hayes said. "One of the things I have been stressing all along is that we've become a group, rather than individuals. I think that has caught on with the families, as well as the students.''

Since its inception nearly seven years ago, the orchestra has expanded from the Ypsilanti Public Schools area to include students from Lincoln and Willow Run, and some as far away as Brighton. The orchestra also has benefited from home schooled and private-school students. At the same time that the program has grown in breadth of area, the quality of music and performers has improved.

"If you compare a recording of what it sounded like and the level of music we could play at the beginning in the first year, there's no comparison to what we can do now,'' Galler said. "Not only how challenging it is, but how well it sounds. The players have gotten better, and as a result of players getting better, we can attract better players.''

Perhaps the best aspect of the program is the cost. There is no charge to participate and no charge to attend the three annual concerts. The program is funded by the Friends of the Ypsilanti Youth Orchestra, of which Galler is the president. This group also gives scholarships for lessons and attendance to summer music camps for its best and brightest. Galler credits such programs with the improvement of the orchestra over the years.

Galler and Hayes also have started a string class for beginners, so that those who have no experience at all can learn and join the group. "What we have seen is a more available talent pool as each child comes to the orchestra,'' Hayes said. "We're not starting everybody from the beginning again, which is why we have started this beginning class, to open it up to those who have not had experience yet, especially in strings.''

In addition to the special features of the May 7 concert - such as a string quartet, a concertmistress solo, a flute trio, the Loeschers and Eastern professor Diane Winder and her students performing a Vivaldi Concerto for Two Cellos - the orchestra will play a popular mix of music from famous composers, which Hayes says is a step up for the group.

"We do see this as a crowning concert,'' Hayes said. "We've never been able to play this much quality music before and it's because of the growth and the continued commitment on the part of the children and the families.''


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