In its five previous years, the Youth Orchestras of San Antonio’s crowning YOSApalooza performance at the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts had never been captured on video, in part due to logistics and in part to preserve the surprise for new audiences.
Anyone who has attended knows that the event culminates with a raucous, uplifting version of Beethoven’s Ode to Joy, with all 500 students, ages 8 to 20, filling the stage, aisles, and balconies of the Tobin’s H-E-B Performance Hall to perform together.
“It’s a really touching, moving moment to have all these musicians all over the building, surrounding you,” said Troy Peters, YOSA music director and conductor of the YOSA Philharmonic orchestra.
The cancellation of the sixth annual YOSApalooza due to the coronavirus shutdown sent Peters in search of a way to recreate the powerful performance virtually. He found several recordings of last year’s event made by audience members and posted to YouTube, and edited them together to produce a multi-angle video version of the Ode for anyone to enjoy this Sunday evening May 17, when the first virtual YOSApalooza streams from 6 p.m.-7:30 p.m.
The program will comprise past recordings of all nine orchestras, with selections of musical pieces chosen by each orchestra’s conductor. Short selections include the finale of Igor Stravinsky’s The Firebird by the YOSA Philharmonic, American composer and noted elementary strings instructor Doris Gazda’s western-themed Lackawanna Locomotive played by the YOSA Prelude Strings, and a selection from Tchaikovsky’s Pathétique symphony by the YOSA Symphonic Winds.
Sunday will be particularly poignant for YOSA’s graduating seniors, who are unable to gather due to social distancing restrictions and will not experience the culminating moment they’ve witnessed as past seniors have celebrated their final performance.
“It feels awful,” said violinist Hunter Messick, a graduating senior from Brandeis High School, “because that was one of the big concerts that I really looked forward to.” Messick had planned to perform The Moldau, a musical ode to the European river by Czech composer Bedřich Smetana.
“Now I don’t get to play that,” Messick said, “and the Ode to Joy at YOSApalooza always gave me chills. I was really looking forward to playing it one last time, and then it all got thrown off.”
Messick is among several YOSA musicians who have stayed active during the shutdown, Peters said, contributing performances to the YouTube channel YOSA Plays On. For example, Messick and fellow violinist Gemmalee DyerMok can be seen performing The Moldau on YouTube, and trombonists Cayden Rolfe plays the traditional tune Scarborough Fair with his father, in an inventive ensemble recording.
Peters said YOSA did not want to burden its student musicians with more Zoom meetings in addition to their online class schedules, but made resources available to them through virtual instruction. The voluntary lessons include a session on active listening taught by Peters and a session on Baroque flute techniques taught by Kristin Hayes, conductor of the YOSA Flute Choir.
The heart of YOSA is learning ensemble music, “making music in a room with other people,” Peters said. Without that possibility, “we’re just in this phase where we need to keep trying to keep those muscles growing, so that when we’re able to get back together – whenever that day comes – that those muscles haven’t atrophied,” he said.
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Though the musicians will not be able to gather for their traditional sendoff, Peters hoped the online YOSApalooza event will serve as marker of the unusual time. For the seniors at “a major life crossroads” who have earned their ceremonial salute, “that’s not getting to happen the way it should happen, and that’s not a small thing,” Peters said. “Life doesn’t work the way life is supposed to work right now, and that’s weird and unsettling.”
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However, a special video will commemorate the seniors’ musical accomplishments. “Even though we can’t be on the Tobin Center stage, we wanted to create a virtual version of that moment,” Peters said.
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Following YOSApalooza, Peters and his fellow YOSA conductors will continue working with students to produce music via remote technology, and will prepare for the annual YOSA Summer Symphony Camp, converted from the normal three-week, in-person camp to an online, one-week version.
Life online might be frustrating for anyone used to live performance, Peters said, but finding productive ways to cope is important. “It’s not just classical music, but anybody who’s a musician, anybody who’s an actor, anybody who’s a dancer, anybody who’s a performing artist is struggling with, ‘I don’t get to be with other people and do the thing that defines who I am,’” he said, “and so we’re trying to create opportunities to do that.”
This article has been corrected to reflect that YOSApalooza will stream online on Sunday, May 17 at 6 p.m.