SAN DIEGO — One usually associates children and musical instruments with sweaty recitals filled with overbearing parents, squeaky violin solos and a dozen renditions of "Fur Elise." But the San Diego Youth Symphony, which has been around since 1945, has garnered praise throughout the world.
The symphony has been sponsored by the San Diego Park and Recreation Department since 1947, and is designed to provide young musicians with practical experience, professionalism and discipline in symphonic music.
Though musicians in the orchestra may be as old as 24, most are from 11 to 18. The dedicated group of 70 meets every Saturday at the Casa Del Prado in Balboa Park to bone up on their classical music. Many of the the string musicians who live in San Diego have extra practices on Thursday.
Some of the members' parents drive them from as far away as Borrego Springs and El Centro to rehearse downtown.
Mischa Perrin makes a 2 1/2-hour trip every Saturday from Borrego Springs to San Diego. Mischa, a 15-year-old violinist, has been playing for 10 years and has been with the Youth Symphony for a year. While Perrin rehearses with the rest of the orchestra, her parents do their weekly shopping in town. The rehearsals are a trek for the family, but the violinist said her parents are happy she is involved with the Youth Symphony because her mother is the band leader at the Borrego Springs senior and junior high school.
Traci Duley, a 16-year-old violinist from North County, has been playing with the Youth Symphony for four years. She said she hasn't decided whether she wants to be a professional musician but she enjoys playing with the orchestra.
Interests Besides Music
Traci's older sister, Kelly, has been with the symphony since 1983. She, too, plays the violin, but she says it isn't her only interest.
"I want to be well-rounded," the 17-year-old said. "At my age, I've been to six different countries with the Youth Symphony. But I can't see myself 10 years down the line majoring in music. Even now, I do other things. I'm involved in school and am on the swim team. I would like to get involved in political science or history when I go to college.
"It's such a commitment to play with the symphony that it's funny that I don't want to become a professional musician. Many of the kids in the symphony go on to play for big professional symphonies. I do know that I'll never give up music."
Traci and Kelly's mother, Pat Duley, has served as president on the Youth Symphony's Board of Directors for the past two years and said many parents get involved. She and her husband are musicians and happy to see their children involved.
"It's a wonderful experience for the kids that they couldn't get otherwise," she said. "A lot of parents help out by car-pooling, and some serve on the board."
Busy Board Member
Wayne Airy is a board member and often answers the phone in the office during Thursday night rehearsals.
"I used to come and watch my son Mark play at the practices," he said. "I was there all the time, so I figured I may as well get involved. Mark used to want to be a professional musician and still might.
"He's good enough," Airy said, "but as they get older, they get new interests. My son is now very interested in computers and mathematics."
Airy, a sort of den father to the youngsters, knows everyone by name and likes to tease them while they tune up for their Thursday rehearsals.
Gabriella Brown, a bouncy 12-year-old, dragged two instruments, one twice her size, into the hall last week. She, like many of the musicians, is from a musical family.
She, her brother and father play the violin. The sixth-grader has been playing since she was 3 and has been with the Youth Symphony for a year. But she doesn't like it enough to make music a career. She said she is always a little nervous when she performs.
Ellen Avakian is 14 and plays the violin. She's been with the symphony 1 1/2 years.
"My music teacher thought I was good enough to try out," she said. "My teacher knew the conductor and told him about me."
She said she doesn't want to make a career of music but wants to be an architect.
"Ever since the San Diego Symphony went under, you hear about all the musicians who don't have work," she said. "I don't want to end up like that."
Ellen said her parents are proud of her achievements but wonder whether the practices interfere with school.
"On Thursday nights when we rehearse with the musicians that live in San Diego, I don't go to sleep," she said. "After rehearsal, I go home and do my homework all night."
Louis Campiglia, the symphony's conductor, said playing for the symphony takes a lot of dedication. He has taught music in school for 24 years and knows how to work with young people.