Christopher James Lees, Katie Ebert, and Eric Thompson, III
Students returning to the Charlotte Symphony's Youth Orchestra (CSYO) program this fall will recognize two familiar faces returning to the podium: CSYO Principal Conductor Christopher James Lees and Youth Ensemble Conductor Eric Thompson. They'll also have the opportunity to meet Katie Ebert, who joins Eric Thompson this year as Co-Conductor of the Charlotte Symphony Youth Philharmonic. We caught up with our three conductors to find out what they are most looking forward to in the upcoming year.
As Principal Conductor of the Charlotte Symphony Youth Orchestras, Christopher James Lees oversees the entire program and works directly with the musicians of the Youth Orchestra, our most advanced ensemble. These extraordinary young musicians perform professional-level symphonic repertoire and have the opportunity to perform side-by-side with members of the Charlotte Symphony.
"I am ecstatic that this will be the first time in three years that the families in the Charlotte Symphony Youth Orchestras will have a normal start to the season. Adding two sensational leaders to our Youth Philharmonic leadership team -- Eric Thompson III & Katie Ebert -- also ensures that all youth orchestras will take significant steps towards our vision for a dynamic, musically enriching program that is widely accessible for all." ~ Christopher James Lees
New to the program this year, Katie Ebert joins Eric Thompson as Co-Conductor of the Charlotte Symphony Youth Philharmonic, our intermediate ensemble which performs advanced high school level repertoire and serves young musicians between the ages of 8-16. Katie is in her 19th year teaching in public schools and is the Director of Bands at Cuthbertson Middle School in Waxhaw, NC. She is a three-time award recipient of the National Band Association's Citation of Excellence and was recognized as Cuthbertson Middle School's Teacher of the Year in 2016/17
"I am incredibly excited to have students from different schools come and make music together! Music is what feelings sound like, and the experience of sharing these feelings together, through music, is such a valuable experience for our young people today." ~ Katie Ebert
Eric Thompson III is returning for his second year as conductor for the Charlotte Symphony's Youth Ensemble, a new training ensemble designed to introduce our youngest musicians to cooperative playing with hands-on instruction. Eric will also work alongside Katie Ebert as Co-Conductor of the Charlotte Symphony Youth Philharmonic.
"I am absolutely thrilled this season to share all the wonderful, exciting, and magical repertoire Katie Elbert and I have planned for CSYP! I am equally elated for CSYE, and our young musicians who will experience playing in a full orchestra -- many for the first time, with coaching from Charlotte Symphony musicians! I would also like to resonate Christopher James Lees' enthusiasm. It will be an exciting year for our youth orchestras, and I think everyone will enjoy our musical journey!" ~ Eric Thompson, III Read moreCharlotte SymphonyCharlotte Symphony
The Charlotte Symphony Youth Ensemble (CSYE) is a new training ensemble designed to bridge early music education with the Intermediate and Advanced Youth Orchestras. The CSYE is an introduction to music ensemble learning and provides regular coaching by Charlotte Symphony musicians and conducting staff. >> Learn more
We recently caught up with Eric Thompson, conductor of the Charlotte Symphony's new Youth Ensemble to hear about the group's first rehearsal and what he hopes students gain from the experience.
How does the Youth Ensemble differ from the Symphony's Youth Philharmonic and Youth Symphony?
Sometimes students are discouraged by the audition process, they might not have a private teacher or access to this level of music education, but this is an ensemble that they are able to play in. In this group, the ensemble playing comes first, then the rest.
I understand the Youth Ensemble recently had its first meeting how did it go?
It was absolutely amazing! The kids are very excited, many are playing in an orchestra for the first time. The excitement was certainly there and I can't wait to see what's going to happen!
What do you hope students will take away from their first season?
From this first season, I really hope that the students start that journey -- that lifelong pursuit and interest in music. I'm certainly hoping they learn to love music as much as I do. And I want to get them plugged into the music pipeline, not only the CSO's three ensembles, but other things, like Western Regionals, All-State, arts camps, and all the things they can get into with music.
What other skills have you seen students develop from playing music?
Certainly, some of the skills that you gain from music and playing in an ensemble include a sense of community, confidence, motor skills -- but it's more than that. My brother started an El Sistema-based program in Philadelphia. Not too long after starting the program, the schools improved tremendously. The Principals thought that they were doing something like a study hall, but it was all the music. There are all these extra positive things that happen from being involved in music and an ensemble -- even without the kids knowing it! I'm really looking forward to seeing that happen.
What would you say to students who don't think orchestral music is for them?
Music is for everyone. Music is absolutely universal. I remember hearing my first live concert -- the New York Philharmonic performing Beethoven's Symphony No. 5 in the Park. It was just so exciting! I see so many students who are not interested in orchestral music. But if they give it just a little bit of a chance, they are always excited about it. I would encourage students to give it a chance and give it a try. There are so many things out there that we can close ourselves off to because we've been told that it's not for us, or we assume that it's not for us. But when I think about all of the music that's out there from all of these different composers -- it really is just wonderful.
A former member of the Charlotte Symphony Youth Orchestra, Jirah Montgomery also received musical training through the Symphony's Northwest Residency Program. Now, as an assistant with the Charlotte Symphony helping with the Youth Orchestra program, Jirah shares how early access to music education has shaped her into the person she is today.
My name is Jirah Montgomery, and I've been playing the violin for close to 13 years. Throughout the years, I've learned countless things about how to play the violin both skillfully and artistically. I've learned that playing every note in a piece of music perfectly does not equate to you mastering the piece. There may be a number of "rules" as a violinist, but it's the sole act of playing the violin that helps me feel liberated as I continue to grow up.
I started playing the violin in 3rd grade in a community program at my elementary school. It's where I met my first violin teacher, a woman I still learn from and now work with today. I had liked the act of playing/learning the violin, but I was not too keen on learning how to read sheet music. I would simply remember how a piece sounded as the class played it all together, go home, and play around on the violin until I found the correct notes by ear. I didn't get very far with this method, as the more challenging the music grew, the more challenging it was to "fake it till I made it". However, once my teacher found out my method, she made sure to spend time with me, showing me how to read music. Not only did she teach me how to read music, but she helped me find my passion for music. She taught me how to take the joy and motivation I felt from actually learning the notes and apply them to the music, literally.
That feeling continued throughout elementary to middle school, from middle school to high school, and then on. That joy I felt from my first year of playing the violin continued to grow through intense music camps/events, music auditions (both the successful ones and not so successful ones), good seating auditions, and not so good seating auditions. No matter what challenge I encountered and no matter how I came out at the end of the challenge, that joy stayed there, and eventually, through opportunities I was blessed to receive, I was able to share that joy with others.
Jirah Montgomery performing side-by-side with the Charlotte Symphony as part of the Northwest Residency Program
I mentioned those music camps/events where I would be able to share my joy of music with others, but those were usually for a weekend or a week (at the most). It was the events through CSA, CSYO, and my middle/high school orchestra that helped me make longtime friends who also have a passion for music. I would look forward to the days where I would leave school and head to "reunion class" or CSYO rehearsals. Some of my fondest memories come from my reunion class days where we would have potlucks every once in a while. We would all bring our food of choice (it didn't matter whether it was homemade, KFC, or a cultural dish) and we would all sit and eat like a huge family (which we definitely were). I also have countless memories, all of them fond, from CSYO. The rehearsals were held at my high school, so every Tuesday my friends and I would meet in the orchestra room (where the rehearsal took place) before walking out to my car in the student parking lot. We would drive through after-school traffic to a cookout not too far from the school, and we would do this every Tuesday without fail. We would get back to the school, eat, and then help set up. It may seem simple to some, even a little "too much" to others, but it was something I genuinely looked forward to every week. What's better than a meal with close friends followed by playing beautiful but challenging music alongside other friends?
Even in the hardest times, I vividly remember music always helping me in some way. It could be listening to music, playing music, or downloading random sheets of music from IMSLP; without fail, music has always been there for me. A lot of people wonder where they would be had they not done something when they were younger; I have never wondered what my life would be like had I not continued to play the violin in elementary.
Right now, as a junior in college, I major in Criminal Justice and minor in Psychology. I've been asked what made me "stop liking the violin". I stand by my answer that I never stopped liking the violin and that I just found something else that I'm also passionate about. Music has always been, and will always be, a monumental part of my life. It's because of music that I've made the friends I have today, who in turn have shaped me into the person I am today. Music has quite literally had an effect on everything in my life, and I honestly wouldn't have it any other way.
The Charlotte Symphony Youth Orchestra is back for the 2021-22 season! On September 7, our Youth Orchestra Programs returned to in-person rehearsals at Park Road Baptist Church. Rehearsals resumed in the Gymnasium allowing for a greater number of students to socially distance while masked. Despite the larger rehearsal space, our attendance has grown and necessitated splitting the orchestra into two smaller groups for rehearsal purposes. Those mini orchestras are rehearsing the same repertoire and will later be combined for full rehearsals and concerts. Everyone on site was overjoyed and smiling beneath their masks at the prospect of making music again. Read moreCharlotte SymphonyCharlotte Symphony
After 12 months apart, the Charlotte Symphony Youth Orchestras got back to in-person rehearsing thanks to the generosity of Park Road Baptist Church, which allowed the groups to safely gather in their parking lot. Spirits were high as the groups came together to rehearse works by Chance, Mozart, Mackey, Bryant, Beethoven, and more! The outdoor location allowed for lots of music while still adhering to social distancing guidelines.
The Youth Orchestra's sounded so wonderful that neighborhood families came by to watch them rehearse from a distance!
CSO Resident Conductor, and Youth Orchestra conductor, Christopher James Lees shares his excitement at the first rehearsal
Although we weren't able to gather together for our final concert, we still want to honor our graduating seniors by acknowledging their accomplishments, and thanking them for their dedication to the Youth Orchestra.
In the video below Christopher James Lees, Principal Conductor of the Youth Orchestra Program, highlights each graduating student's achievements and gives them the opportunity to talk about what they love about the program, and where they are headed after graduation.
Best of luck to our 2020 graduates, we're so proud of you!
We sat down with longtime Charlotte Symphony Concertmaster Calin Lupanu and Charlotte Symphony Youth Orchestra Concertmaster Victor Chu, a senior at Providence Day School. Here, they dish about this important role, from onstage pressures to having the best seat in the house!
Calin, you've had this job for over 15 years. What's the best part about being Concertmaster?
CL: The responsibility that comes with the job. Personally, I love it. I embrace pressure. I also love interacting with my colleagues, getting to play solos, and working with great conductors and soloists.
And the best part for you, Victor? You're much newer to this.
VC: To be honest, I'm a pretty quiet guy. But this process -- becoming a more confident leader -- has been the best part. I still remember the first time I had to tune with Conductor Christopher James Lees. In addition to walking me through his process, he was fixing my posture and teaching me how to address the different people in the orchestra. The icing on the cake? The concertmaster seat has a great view!
Can you recall a moment of terror on stage? Any memorable faux pas?
CL: One happened when our Music Director, Christopher Warren-Green, auditioned for the CSO job. During the dress rehearsal, with an audience in the hall, my bridge (the little wooden thing that holds the strings) collapsed! I managed to give the violin to my stand partner, and took a colleague's violin and kept playing. But...it's virtually impossible to have success, without experiencing failure.
VC: There was one time that the first violin section kept messing up and I had just nailed it on the last run-through. Mr. Lees asked me to play it as an example. Everyone went silent. I started playing and it was suddenly SO OUT OF TUNE. To this day, I still don't know how that could have happened.
What do you do right before a concert? Any rituals?
CL: I try to focus and relax. I try to get ready mentally and enjoy it at the same time.
VC: Mostly I think, "You're not walking weird. It just feels weird because people will be watching." Even basic things like walking just don't feel the same when so many strangers are staring at you!
Calin, other than practicing and mastering the violin technique, what advice do you have for Victor?
CL: Moving forward always and most importantly, learning from your experiences.
Victor, what are your plans? Pursuing the stage as a career?
VC: My current plan is to explore Computer Science this fall in college. But don't worry, I'll still spend my fair share of time in the practice room!
Justice Crawford is making a musical name for himself.
His mother, a psychologist and one-time flutist, has played in orchestras and knew she wanted her children to be exposed to music. "I've always had an appreciation for what music can do for the mind and for a person's spirit in general," says Endora Crawford. "It's always been my plan for my kids to dabble in music."
But Justice is doing more than just dabbling. This talented 8th grader is one of the first two students from the Charlotte Symphony's
Winterfield Youth Orchestra program (now part of Project Harmony), covered in The Charlotte Observer in 2014 for his successful audition and admission into Northwest School of the Arts.
Maybe music helped ground Justice. His father served as a U.S. Naval Officer for 23 years, so he was born in Japan and spent many of his younger years in Hawaii. When his parents divorced, his mother moved the boys from Hawaii to Charlotte, landing in the Winterfield neighborhood. The family then moved to south Charlotte, where he is now an 8th grader at Alexander Graham Middle School.
Justice recently took his musical next step: auditioning for the Charlotte Symphony Junior Youth Orchestra.
Of the new group, in which Justice plays viola, Ms. Crawford says, "It's good to push him." Following his little bit of fame, she adds, she noticed an increased seriousness from her son--that people were noticing him, so they would be counting on him. "For the seating auditions, we could tell he was physically nervous," she says. "But that just meant that he knows it was important, and I love that. It shows that he was really taking it to heart."
Joining JYO also has given Justice a heightened level of discipline, Ms. Crawford says. "He's learning the expectation that you're going to play your best ... and practice harder, because others are now relying on you." Like any sport, an orchestra makes you part of a team. And Justice is playing his part.
So what's next for this budding violist? Ms. Crawford says she and her son have talked about career choices and this lover of math says his top choices are to become an Intellectual Property attorney or go into cyber security. As for music, Ms. Crawford says, "The plan is to play music as long as he'd like to continue to play."
The 28th annual Youth Festival took place on Wednesday, April 29 at 7:30 p.m. at Belk Theater. This annual concert highlights the talents of the Charlotte Symphony Youth Orchestra (CSYO), the Junior Youth Orchestra (JYO) and the grand-prize winner of the senior division of the Symphony Guild of Charlotte s annual Young Artists Competition.
This year's winner this year is Kiffen Loomis, who is 16 and lives in Asheville, NC. He's a pianist who's been playing since age five. Get to know this talented young man!
How were you introduced to the piano?
As a 3 and 4 year-old, I would sit under the piano as my older brother practiced. Hearing each hammer strike the string, and seeing his foot guide the pedal up and down fascinated me. By the age of 5, I was ready to crawl up from under the piano, and play it for myself.
Who is one performer you respect?
Glenn Gould is one of the most enthralling pianists of the last century. His attention to detail, in combination with his fearless interpretation of the hallmark works, demands great respect.
What piece would you love to perform?
Bach's Goldberg Variations carry with them a divine character, making them stunningly beautiful, yet daunting. I would love to study the work, but question whether I would ever be able to perform it.
What other contests/awards have you won?
I have won the North Carolina Symphony's Junior Kathleen Price and Joseph M. Bryan Youth Concerto Competition, the Winston-Salem Symphony's Peter Perret Youth Talent Search, the Hendersonville Symphony Young Artist Concerto Competition, the junior division of the Charlotte Symphony Guild's Young Artist Competition, and eight first-place awards at the statewide competitions hosted by the NCFMC.
What else we should know about you?
I serve as president of the Western North Carolina region of the Order of the Arrow, part of the Boy Scouts of America. I devote much of my time to promoting leadership development among those in my region, and serving the community as a whole. In addition to my BSA interests, I play on my high school's varsity tennis team.
I also lead an organization called Notes from the Soul. NFS is a group of student musicians from WNC who performed for over 2,000 children in elementary schools and after-school programs this year. The group exposes its listeners to different types of music and promotes musical interchange among the children and young adults who perform.
Do you know what you'd like to study in college?
I would like to study Nuclear Physics while maintaining my piano studies. This summer I will be working in the TUNL Research Institute for Nuclear Physics at Duke University and hope to determine whether nuclear physics is indeed my calling.
Under the guidance of Dr. Ernest Pereira, the more than 160 students of the Charlotte Symphony's Junior Youth and Youth Orchestras received 25 hours of top-notch coaching with CSO musicians this spring. Training in a professional setting with the pros not only enhanced their development as young musicians, but also prepared them for a series of performances starting with February's 26thannual Youth Festival and culminating with their Spring Concerts.
Twenty-one seniors graduated from the Youth Orchestra this May, marking their final performance as Charlotte Symphony Youth Orchestra musicians.
Senior Patrick Hoffman plays viola for the CSYO and values the unique experience the Youth Orchestra provides: "[The CSYO is] an opportunity to play mature repertoire where people want to play because it's not something that's required." Hoffman also appreciates the connections he's made saying "Maybe you sit next to someone you've never met from Cornelius. ... [The CSYO] really brings the Charlotte area together." Patrick will attend UNC Greensboro in the fall where he will pursue a degree in Music Education.
For their next performance, the Youth Orchestra will play to a crowd of more than two-thousand on Sunday, June 16, presenting the prelude to the Charlotte Symphony's "A Summer Pops Fantasia" concert at Symphony Park.
Other summer activities include the Charlotte Symphony Youth Orchestra Summer Camp July 31 August 4, and a once-in-a-lifetime trip to DC in June, where the young musicians will train and perform with prestigious youth orchestras from other cities.