Hitting the high notes
When 17 year-old Corie Williamson was starting sixth grade at Gresham's Dexter McCarty Middle School she wanted to be in the band but didn't know what she wanted to play. Her older sister's friend let her try her trumpet and she said, "I was like 'yup, this is it.'"
Williamson has played that trumpet all the way to joining the prestigious Portland Youth Philharmonic and is one of a group of East Multnomah County students in one of two major youth orchestras in the Portland area.
The Metropolitan Youth Symphony has 10 young musicians from East County and Portland Youth Philharmoic has two.
The 95 year-old Portland Youth Philharmonic, the first such group in the nation, includes about 300 young musicians from 100 schools in multiple musical ensembles.
The Metropolitan Youth Symphony enrolls more than 500 students in 15 musical groups.
To audition for these orchestras, student musicians have to have at least one year of experience on their instruments, but most have many more. Auditions are taking place this month.
There are several levels of musical groups in both organizations and musicians strive to reach the top-ranked orchestra in each. The top orchestras perform their concerts in Portland's iconic Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall.
Another Gresham musician in the Portland Youth Philharmonic is French horn player Aidan Colbeck, 17, a senior at Corbett High School. He also plays the piano and guitar and sometimes teaches horn and piano.
His decision to play the French horn was as casual as Williamson's to play the trumpet.
"I was in fifth grade and we were in band and everyone was picking their instruments. The teacher needed a (French) horn player and I more or less volunteered to play the horn. But, I'm glad I did," said Colbeck.
Fifteen-year-old Galilea Rios Schulz's decision to learn the violin was much more intentional.
"Musicians came to my school when I was in kindergarten and played and I came home and told my mom 'I need to play the violin,'" the Corbett High School sophomore said.
Her mom, wary that it might be a fickle request typical of a 5 year old, made Rios Schulz wait until she was all of 7 to get the coveted instrument.
Once Rios Schulz got her violin, the family drove her to Portland for private lessons. At the urging of her violin teacher, she auditioned for the Metropolitan Youth Symphony and was accepted at the ripe old age of 9.
Spreading the excitement
Rios Schulz has advanced up the musical group ladder in MYS every year and this month is auditioning for the top orchestra.
So taken with the violin, she and some other families lobbied the Corbett School District to add strings to the school music program.
"We made a strings program during the school day so many kids could play strings. We started out with just six kids. Now there is over 100. It's really cool to see how much it's grown," she said.
Trumpeter Williamson, a Gresham native, said she learned about PYP from some French-horn-playing friends from the high school band.
"I went to one of their concerts and I thought 'I really want to do this. I really want to perform like this. So I auditioned," she said.
Colbeck credits the Corbett band instructor Tim Killgore with connecting him with PYP. Killgore encouraged Colbeck to attend a free PYP master class and participatory rehearsal PYP stages every year.
He went and "I thought 'Wow, this is incredible,'" he said.
Colbeck auditioned and has been in the PYP program since 2014.
Williamson's audition "was less scary than I thought it would be. The staff is all so welcoming, patient and kind. They were giving me great feedback. I learned a lot just in the audition."
Williamson loves the romantic classical composers, especially Pyotr Illyich Tchaikovsky ("1812 Overture," "The Nutcracker," "Swan Lake") and Antonin Dvorak (Symphony No. 9 "From the New World").
Colbeck was jazzed about performing Dmitri Shostakovich's "10th Symphony" with PYP.
"It's the kind of thing I really like. It's big and insane. In my section it's really loud. It's a blast. The second movement is really fast, very charged," he said with a huge smile.
Violinist Rios Schulz was thrilled playing Tchaikovsky's "Swan Lake."
"That was one of the most amazing pieces. All the power was in that piece," she said.
The young musicians rave about their experiences in the orchestras.
Colbeck said PYP "is probably the most influential thing in my musical life. I love playing more and more challenging music. It is exciting and amazing."
He said "one of the best things is actually getting to work with people that are 100% dedicated to their instruments. They want to be there. They are amazing. To work with that talent, and be among my peers is super awesome."
Said Williamson: "It's so incredible. There is really nothing like it. Honestly. Everyone is so hardworking, kind and patient. My fellow musicians are always inspiring me to be the best I can be."
They're not just one note wonders
These young musicians are not just band geeks. All three are at the top of their classes academically and have varied interests outside of the rehearsal hall.
- In addition to the one, three-hour Metropolitan Youth Symphony rehearsal per week, Galilea Rios Schulz, like the other musicians, practices many hours at home. She also runs track and cross country and was on the Corbett High School equestrian team. She has volunteered at multiple organizations including a horse rescue program.
The violinist carries a 4.0 grade point average and has already taken seven college-level Advanced Placement classes. She's contemplating a career in law.
- For trumpeter Corie Williamson history and English are her favorite classes outside of her three music classes at Gresham High School. She boasts a 4 point grade point average.
Williamson plans to become a music teacher and is looking at Central Washington University, Ellensburg, which has a good program in music education.
- Aidan Colbeck, attends Corbett High School, has a 3.9 grade point average, and has already taken eight AP classes.
Colbeck skateboards and has built a computer. He also works at a plant and tree nursery.
Colbeck's father, John, is English and Colbeck is considering college in England.
Like the other parents of these young musicians, Colbeck's father, John, is understandably proud of his son.
"It has been incredible to watch him develop and get better at everything," he said.
He credited Colbeck's mom, Sara, for driving, supporting and volunteering for Aidan and his younger brother, making their music journey possible and to Corbett teacher Tim Killgore for expert guidance.
It takes a village.
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