Oregon Coast Youth Symphony Festival continues to grow

A 2 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 24, concert by rock violinist Aaron Meyer, pianist Jean-Pierre Garau and the North Salem High School string ensemble will benefit young musicians who come to Newport to attend the Oregon Coast Youth Symphony Festival each spring (see related story).

The idea of a Youth Symphony Festival came about from a conversation among several people, including Michael Dalton, the late David Ogden Stiers and former Newport mayor Mark McConnell. They were lamenting the lack of a robust music program in the schools, Dalton said, and were also concerned that classical music audiences were graying; they sought ways to develop the next generation of attendees.

“We asked ourselves, ‘what could we do to support a music program in schools, and classical music in particular,’” he recalled. And they came up with the idea of a youth symphony festival.

“Our focus is on in-school music programs, and our priority is Title I schools,” Dalton explained. “We don’t want money to be an obstacle to students experiencing these events.” Title I schools are those with a large concentration of low-income students.

While the Youth Symphony Festival and the Newport Symphony are separate organizations, the festival was started by former Newport Symphony board members. Dalton, who is Youth Symphony Festival board chairman, was a Newport Symphony board member for 10 years and board chairman for seven, and is in his second term as an appointed member of the Oregon Arts Commission.

The festival is a 501(c)(3) non-profit, tax-exempt organization. Lead clinician is Adam Flatt, music director of the Newport Symphony Orchestra. The guest clinician for 2020 is Mark Laycock, professor of music at Wichita State University, conductor of the Wichita Youth Symphony and director of the Wichita Youth Orchestra.

Festival goals include supporting relationship building and teamwork among youths, increasing student awareness of the role music can play throughout their lives, and providing opportunities to hone technical skills as student musicians. Its mission is to enhance the quality of life for Oregon youth by providing the opportunity to learn and perform orchestral music collaboratively.

This year’s series of events are:

• A winter concert series featuring high school and professional quartets playing side by side. This year’s professional quartets are Thunder Egg Consort of Portland, University of Oregon graduate students and professors and the Element String Quartet (Newport Symphony musicians), while the high school quartets are from Forest Grove, Reynolds and South Salem high schools.

The concert dates are Jan. 11, Feb. 15 and March 7, 2020 at Newport Presbyterian Church.

• The Oregon Coast Youth Symphony Festival at Newport, April 23-26, 2020, with workshops, clinics and performances. The high school string orchestras that will be attending the 2020 Festival are Rex Putnam, Pendleton, Astoria, North Salem, Mountain View and Ashland. All six will perform in free public concerts, as will the Oregon State University Chamber Ensemble.

• A high school composers’ symposium, launched this year, featuring six students and held in connection with the festival in April. The six selected high school students will have submitted an original composition, received instruction from professional composers, revised their work and had it performed.

The symposium is conducted with support from the Oregon Music Educators Association. Students this year will come from Sherwood, Warrenton, Tigard, Roseburg, West Linn and Ashland.

Dalton said the board continues to seek out partners, and cited relationships it has developed with the Newport Symphony, Lincoln County School District and local churches. The Newport Church of the Nazarene provides practice and dining space, and Newport Middle and Sam Case Elementary schools are used along with the Newport Performing Arts Center.

“We make a donation to use these spaces,” Dalton said. “It’s a win-win situation and a way to give back.

“We solicit business sponsors and donations, and write grants, so school participation is not limited by money,” Dalton said. “We don’t want the students to have to sell candy bars to take part.”

Schools are asked to pay a $250 deposit to hold a spot in the festival, but get the money back when they attend. Participants at the festival are housed in local motels, and meals are provided through partnering with groups such as the Grad Night Committee.

“The schools pay no fees other than their bus transportation to Newport,” Dalton noted.

And what does the future hold? Dalton said the board has a 20-year dream of making classical music a signature event for Newport, just as the Rose Festival is in Portland or the Round-Up is in Pendleton, making Newport the arts hub of the Oregon coast.

Youth Symphony Festival board member Sandy Roumagoux, a local artist and former Newport mayor, said when her children were young, music was part of the standard public school curriculum.

“My daughter started her cello career as a fourth-grader, when she brought home a paper that asked if she wanted to study an instrument and I said yes,” she recalled. “She is now a professional cellist and has a Ph.D. in music history and cello performance from the University of Oregon.

“One thing that is important about the festival is that these kids bond — they become a ‘gang’ of musicians and stay in touch their whole lives,” Roumagoux said. “It gives us hope. The festival makes a huge difference in kids’ lives.”

The benefit concert, featuring Meyer, Garau and the North Salem High School string ensemble, takes place at 2 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 24 at Atonement Lutheran Church. Admission is free.

For more information, visit youthsymphonyfestival.org, email [email protected] or call Dalton at 541-992-1929.