The Everett Youth Symphony Orchestra performs its final concert of the season this Sunday, and already the orchestra is scheduling auditions for members as it segues into the new season that begins later this fall.
But the orchestra needs more than student musicians if it hopes to continue its more-than-50-year history as part of Snohomish County’s cultural and educational landscape.
The orchestra relies primarily on the tuition that the families of student musicians pay each year to fund its operation, including modest salaries for its conductors and coaches, performance expenses and other organizational costs for the nonprofit. But a slow attrition over the past 10 years has reduced its ranks from as many as 150 student musicians to about 30, said Vince Seavello, the organization’s volunteer board president. The reduction in membership has reduced the revenue that supports its season of rehearsals and three performances.
As it has lost membership, the orchestra has reduced its program from four skill-based orchestras to two, said Seavello, who joined the board when his son played with the orchestra but has stayed on after his son went to college.
More cuts will come with the new season. Its paid conductors and coaches — with no prompting, Seavello said — came to the three volunteers on the board and offered to take a cut in pay; their combined salaries of $18,000 each year will be reduced to $12,000. More regrettably, the board announced that it will end two merit-based scholarships for student musicians and will not be able to offer tuition assistance to families unable to pay for their children’s participation.
The hope is that the organization can shift from a minor key to a major key and rebuild the orchestra’s membership and its community support.
Among reasons for optimism is EYSO’s music director and conductor, Bobby Collins, who is finishing his first year with the orchestra.
Collins, who lives in Edmonds, performed as a student with the Edmonds-based Cascade Youth Symphony Orchestra and earned a master’s degree at Bowling Green State University. He teaches band, choir and orchestra at International Community School in Kirkland.
Monday night in Jackson High School’s band room, Collins worked with the Concert Orchestra in its final rehearsal before Sunday’s concert. Sometimes a measure at a time, Collins started and stopped musicians to work on rhythm, dynamics and intonation, always with firmness but good humor.
“Why do we make mistakes?” he asked before they began with the first piece.
“Because we don’t get enough sleep?” offered the trombonist to laughter.
That was part of it, Collins agreed, but what else?
“Because we’re not paying attention to the music?” suggested a woodwind player.
“Spot on!” Collins said, asking his students to quietly read through their sheet music for a minute before he lifted his baton to begin.
In previous years, the orchestra’s repertoire had included more contemporary and pops-style compositions, a change that wasn’t popular with some of the private tutors and teachers who work with some students.
“The kids like playing Adele,” Collins said, “and there’s more to classical music than dead white guys,” but he’s returning the orchestras to more traditional classical works that help the students build skills, musicianship and mastery of their instruments.
With that mastery, Collins and Seavello said, comes an enthusiasm and joy for the music that students play.
The organization is hoping to build on its current membership as it holds auditions this summer. Seavello hopes to have about 40 current and new musicians audition for placement in one of the two orchestras. With more musicians comes a fuller sound and more excitement for the students.
Another hopeful note for more musicians is the return of string programs within the Everett School District. String programs are now offered at Jackson High and Heatherwood Middle schools in Mill Creek and Gateway Middle School in Everett.
In addition to new musicians, the organization needs more volunteer help. It has only three board members to run the organization, and needs others who can assist with specific tasks, such as financial management and grant-writing.
More corporate sponsorship would help defray the costs of performances, about $1,000 for each for rentals and publicity, or could support the orchestra’s scholarship and financial assistance programs.
For more than 50 years, the Everett Youth Symphony Orchestra has helped develop musicians who have made careers in music or simply fostered an appreciation for music that can be passed down to the next generation.
A city and county that values the arts and children shouldn’t allow its youth symphony to be silenced.
The Everett Youth Symphony Orchestra will perform its spring concert at 4 p.m. Sunday at Jackson High School auditorium, 1508 136th St. SE, Mill Creek. Tickets are $10 for adults, $5 for youths.
The EYSO is accepting registration for auditions this summer in advance of its next season. For online registration and more information go to www.eyso.info or call 425-258-2028.