Help La Jeunesse Youth Orchestra celebrate 20-year milestone

By Cecilia Nasmith

The La Jeunesse Youth Orchestra is having a milestone season this year, board president Jackie Nicholls says, celebrating their 20th anniversary.

You are cordially invited to join the latest celebration on Feb. 24, with their In The Spotlight concert.

Founding directors Michael Lyons and Laurie Mitchell are still involved with the group, Nicholls said, and a number of orchestra alumni have returned through the years as mentors.

“We have one adult mentor for each section,” Nicholls explained.

“One of our mentors has been with us the whole time – Tony Mancktelow.”

As a retired music teacher, Nicholls got enthusiastic invitations from students of hers who were in the orchestra and begged her, 'Madame, madame, you have to come see us play.'

“I'm a Port Hope person, and it had been a while since I had been to a La Jeunesse concert,” she recalled.

“I have seen them play for me, I have seen them play for strangers, I have seen their music travel over into their lives.

“We all know making music makes you smarter. These kids develop leadership qualities as they progress through the ranks from first chair to second to soloist to concert master to orchestra leader. They share in friendship and musicianship and partnership with adults, and learn from them how music enriches your life.

“I always say it's the kids you don't see on the news.”

Mitchell has a private violin studio and, when she feels a young student might be ready, she suggests joining the orchestra, A similar arrangement has happened with another instructor, Debra Henderson, resulting in some valuable members for the strings section,

Sometimes, it's just a matter of young people wanting to make music and looking for an outlet to make it happen, Thanks to a group of committed community members who are interested in the arts and want to help local youth, they are able to come through when assistance is needed – for a membership, for the purchase of an instrument and even in the matter of post-secondary education.

Nicholls said that they are able to make scholarships available in certain cases where local students graduating Grade 12 enroll in a post-secondary music program.

“We know how rewarding music can be, and this circle of friends and family and music is so rewarding in many, many ways,” she stated.

The orchestra has launched more than one professional career. For example, Nicholls said, one alumna is the principal bassoonist in the Latvian Philharmonic and one alumnus is concertmaster with the Belleville Symphony.

Even those young people who did not go on to play professionally are infinitely enriched by their time with La Jeunesse, and organizers hope their annual Sonic Bloom concert (this year on May 5) will be something of a homecoming.

“We have contacted over 300 of our previous members, and we hope as many of them as possible will come back. Our goal is to have one or two pieces where they will sit in and play with the current membership and mentors,” Nicholls said.

They are also working on putting together swag bags for their alumni with goodies like La Jeunesse shirts and key lanyards.

Meanwhile, their primary focus is In The Spotlight, where the featured soloists are what Nicholls called home-grown, chosen from within the orchestra. They include some of the younger students Henderson and Mitchell have nurtured along.

The Feb. 24 concert begins at 3 p.m. at Port Hope United Church (34 South St). You can get tickets from any orchestra member, as well as on-line ( and at the door - $20 for tickets from members and $25 otherwise, with special student prices of $15 and free admission for those aged 12 and younger when accompanied by an adult.