By Krista Habermehl
Of 500 eager applicants, only 100 secure a highly-coveted space in the National Youth Orchestra (NYO) of Canada each year.
This summer, Don Wright Faculty of Music string students Anna Grigg, Darren Mak, Dorothy Lin, Christian Wrona and Jillian Yang will join the esteemed orchestra, partaking in a summer institute and pan-Canadian tour in July and August in honour of Canada’s 150th anniversary.
“These students had to compete against people from all over. This is really the best of the best in the country,” said Western Music Performance professor Sharon Wei, who also participated in the NYO of Canada in 1996. “I was so excited for them. This will be a life-changing experience. I still play professionally with people I met that summer.”
The NYO of Canada was one of just 40 organizations hand-picked to design, lead and execute a signature event in honour of Canada’s sesquicentennial. For the 2017 Edges of Canada Tour, the orchestra will perform specially-commissioned works in 11 cities across Canada and will join hands with some of Canada’s Indigenous artists for a youth-oriented response to The Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
“NYO is a pretty highly esteemed summer program throughout Canada. There’s a surprising number of professional orchestra players in Canada who have done the program,” said third-year Music Performance student Grigg, who plays the cello.
She is thrilled to be a part of the tour.
“I’m mostly excited to travel and make connections with musicians I may not have been able to by myself. I would have never been able to travel to Whitehorse, for example, so it’s cool we get to meet so many people and make connections across Canada,” she added.
According to the NYO of Canada website, 40 per cent of Canadian professional orchestra players are alumni of the program.
Grigg, whose sisters play violin and whose mother is a professional pianist, hopes one day to be among this esteemed lot.
“First, I want to do more education in the music world. I definitely want to get a Master’s, but, after that, it’s really whatever comes my way. As long as I’m able to have a career performing, I’ll be happy. If it’s in an orchestra, chamber group, solo, if I teach,” she said.
“That’s why it’s so nice to be able to play in an orchestra where everyone comes in with such high expectations. Everyone will be really prepared and will be excited and motivated to do the work beforehand, too. I’m excited for that.”
For violinist Mak, who is in his second year of music performance at Western, a big part of the excitement of NYO is being able to network with other musicians. “A lot of these musicians don’t go to school in Canada, they go to school elsewhere, and it’s kind of like expanding your global network. And being in a facility with so many other talented musicians is very motivational.”
Unlike Grigg, Mak sees himself pursuing a career in business post-graduation, although he intends to keep playing music as a hobby. “I do hope to play in a community orchestra and keep my skills up that way. Music provides this feeling I can’t get elsewhere. Whenever I’m playing something really beautiful, it’s hard to describe. You just do your thing and you’re in your own little world. You don’t really notice what’s happening around you and, once you close your eyes, it’s just the music speaking for you. It’s something you can’t recreate but that’s super special about music.”
The Edges of Canada Tour kicks off in Ottawa on July 22 and zig zags across the country, culminating in a performance in Vancouver on Aug. 15. For more information about the orchestra and tour, visit nyoc.org/2017tour. To hear Western Music students and faculty members play, take in one of the many free events offered to the general public. For more information, visit: music.uwo.ca/events.