The Greater Twin Cities Youth Symphonies (GTCYS) may not call Edina home, but much of its talent does. Known as “GIT-seez,” hundreds of students ages 8 to 18 take part in the program each year.
From its beginning in 1972, GTCYS has helped more than 16,000 students hone their skills as musicians. “Every decision we make is to further musical education and education in general,” says Mark Russell Smith of Edina. Now in his third year, Smith is the artistic director and symphony conductor for GTCYS.
Becoming part of GTCYS starts with an audition. Students selected for the program are then placed in one of eight orchestras, with the symphony orchestra, conducted by Smith, the highest level. Generally, symphony students are more advanced high schoolers, but occasionally a particularly gifted student will rise quickly through the ranks. Students meet once a week for rehearsals and perform several concerts throughout the year; the higher-level orchestras have a more rigorous concert schedule.
Jack Halverson graduated from both GTCYS and Edina High School last spring. He played bassoon in the symphony orchestra and is amazed by the talent that comes through GTCYS. “I was floored by the musicians in the symphony orchestra,” Halverson says. “Seeing kids my age play this incredible music was extremely inspiring; it was an added perk to have them as my colleagues.”
Halverson also had the benefit of playing an uncommon instrument. “The bassoon is a quirky instrument, and not many people play it,” Halverson says. An instrument like the bassoon can be easily overlooked in a standard high school band, but playing with GTCYS gave Halverson a chance to shine.
Smith says part of what makes GTCYS so special is that it tailors the musical selections to its students. “The first and foremost thing is what’s best for the students,” Smith says. “What will enrich the students’ understanding?”
Maggie Yuhas is a 12-year-old Edina student who plays French horn for GTCYS. “I like it a lot, because in school band, a lot of people are there because they have to be, but I like GTCYS because everyone is really serious,” Yuhas says.
Yuhas’ highlight so far, and the highlight of the year for many GTCYS members, was playing in a festival concert at Orchestra Hall in Minneapolis. Each year, GTCYS puts on a spring show at Orchestra Hall as a final concert before summer.
Whereas the festival concert ends the season for most students, last June, the members of the more advanced symphony orchestra took a special trip to Spain. GTCYS had regularly taken students on trips like this every other year, but due to budget constraints, the trips were cut about 10 years ago. Smith hopes the bi-annual traveling will become a regular part of the symphony orchestra once again.
No matter the student, the main takeaway from GTCYS is the experience itself. The memories don’t necessarily come from the concerts or any particular event, but from being part of the group, says Emma May. May plays cello and just started ninth grade at Southview Middle School.
“Everyone is so welcoming, and some of my closest friends are from GTCYS,” May says. The experience is hard for her non-musical friends to understand, but forms a bond between fellow musicians. Being part of GTCYS may be a lot of work, but in talking to the students, there is no question that the work is worth the reward.
More info about the Greater Twin Cities Youth Symphonies, including upcoming concerts, can be found at gtcys.org.