LJYO anticipates milestone concert

By Cecilia Nasmith

Music director Michael Lyons and string director Laurie Mitchell

Music director Michael Lyons and string director Laurie Mitchell

The La Jeunesse Youth Orchestra May 5 Sonic Bloom concert at Port Hope United Church is a milestone wind-up to the group's 20th season, and also a much-anticipated homecoming event.

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Music director Michael Lyons and string director Laurie Mitchell will welcome back dozens of alumni members to form a mass orchestra for a magnificent finale performance of the popular Pirates of the Caribbean symphonic suite and Gliere's famous Russian Sailor's Dance. Other concert selections from the talented orchestra members include Alla Marcia from Sibelius's Karelia Suite, Chuck Mangione's The Children of Sanchez, Aaron Copland's famous Hoe-Down from Rodeo, Howard Shores's Symphonic Suite from The Lord of the Rings, and more.

“There are not very many outlets for kids to play in what amounts to a symphony orchestra,” past president (and orchestra trumpet coach) Jeff Mitchell said.

“February's In the Spotlight concert allows young musicians to stand up and play a solo in front of the orchestra, but for all there is the ability to participate in a symphony orchestra playing relatively sophisticated music – sometimes the actual scores any orchestra would play.”

In a recent press release, Lyons shared his memories of the orchestra's early days.

“It was an exciting time – the birth of the orchestra – as we all looked ahead to the coming millennium,” Lyons said.

“Much has happened since then, of course, but most notably, this little orchestra has grown and created so many wonderful musical moments and opportunities – far too many to recount.”

No doubt many such memories will be shared. At last count, Mitchell said, 42 former members have committed to coming back to participate. This doesn't count those who will decide closer to show time, nor does it include many former members who just want to show up and sit in the audience.

While Lyons and his wife Laurie have been involved the full 20 years, Mitchell has been involved directly about half that time – though he has been indirectly involved since the start, since the Mitchell children were part of the original orchestra.

Their oldest daughter went on to study music on a post-secondary level. She still plays violin, he added, as well as being resident soprano for Toronto's Church of the Redeemer and music teacher for the Toronto District School Board.

“Many, many students have gone on to music careers,” he said.

“I play in a concert band as well under the New Horizons banner in Bowmanville, where people in their 80s still play and enjoy it – and play at a very good level. It's a life-long thing. In fact our motto is Music For Life.”

Laurie Mitchell commented in the group's press release on that philosophy, “learning at a young age that you can accomplish more than you think you can with steady practice, excellent leadership and a wonderful peer group.”

The point came up again in a recent interview on Northumberland 89.7, in which she expressed concern for how music education is being increasingly taken out of Ontario' public schools by the government. It's a concern Mitchell shares, expressing his strong belief in a well-rounded education.

“Music education as well as math – all those things make for health brains and more dynamic thinking.

“For young musicians who aren't going to be getting the exposure to music education in the school system as they have in the past, LJYO is an important avenue.”

Mitchell praised the orchestra's cofounders for the remarkable continuity and consistent quality of the group over two decades.

Then there are the dedicated coaches they have been fortunate enough to recruit who have given so much to the young orchestra members over the years – volunteers like oboe coach Tony Manctelow, now in his 80s, who has been there since the beginning.

“These kids are getting a lot of mentoring, not only from the coaches, but the older students and returning students who often come and fulfill mentorship kinds of roles.

“And at the root of it, it has always been a parent organization. Parents are well represented on the board, along with community members.”

Along with an outstanding musical celebration, concert attendees will be treated to a special post-concert reception, featuring a slide show, historical photos and the sharing of a 20th-anniversary cake.

Port Hope United Church is located at 34 South St. Tickets for the 3 p.m. show can be purchased at the door on concert day at 2:30 p.m. or on-line or at Furby House Books - $25 for adults and $15 for youth, with children aged 12 and under admitted free with adult accompaniment.