An Interview with New Jersey Youth Symphony Manager of Orchestras Stacy Square
The New Jersey Youth Symphony (NJYS), a program of the Wharton Institute for the Performing Arts, announced in September that it would open the 2020-21 season with new and compelling online education programs, including 15 master classes and 12 webinars with world-renowned guest artists and educators. With a hybrid schedule of both online and socially distant outdoor rehearsals, students also currently participate in over 30 online classes weekly ranging from music theory, composition, and ear training to jazz history, video editing, how to improve sight-reading skills, and fiddling in an unprecedented elevation of both the quantity and breadth of the program’s educational programming.
Following the U.S. Youth Orchestras eFestival on September 20 with fellow programs from Chicago, Hawaii, Los Angeles, and Texas, live performances at venues around the state of New Jersey were replaced with a digital format that has opened new doors of artistic collaborations for the New Jersey Youth Symphony, now in its 42nd season.
The Monday Master Class Series imbues the essence of the New Jersey Youth Symphony’s originally scheduled season, including artists, genres, and diversity, and offers its students a rare touchpoint with professional symphony orchestra musicians and leaders in today’s world of performing arts education. The digital series, expanding the limits of what would have been possible to present in person due to the cost and logistics, features a wide variety of acclaimed instrumentalists. The series kicked off on September 14 with newly appointed Oberlin Conservatory faculty member and French hornist Jeffrey Scott and includes Cleveland Orchestra Principal Clarinet Afendi Yusuf, New Jersey Symphony Orchestra Principal Bass Ha Young Jung, and Seattle Symphony Principal Flute Demarre McGill, as well as instructors from The Juilliard School, University of Massachusetts, and Jazz at Lincoln Center.
New Jersey Youth Symphony Manager of Orchestras Stacy Square took time out of her busy schedule coordinating educational and concert programming to tell us more about the series.
Q: What was the original inspiration for the Monday Master Class Series?
A: It was clear that the start of this season would require some adjustments after our last season ended fully virtual due to the pandemic. Over a hectic summer of strategic planning, our Artistic Director Helen H. Cha-Pyo assembled a hybrid plan for the NJYS community. The hybrid program included master classes, webinars, online courses, and our #StayHomeandPlay project.
Maestro Cha-Pyo’s vision for the new season has been one of hope and perseverance, and of course her motto, “creative solutions.” Witnessing our summer online programs reaching students and patrons across the nation made it clear that we had discovered an unexpected opportunity to engage a wider community of music lovers. The Monday Master Class Series is meant to be enjoyed not only by our students but also by anyone who loves music and wants to understand a little more about different instruments.
A little on the initiative’s inspiration from Cha-Pyo, “Music is a life-long pursuit because there is no end to learning. You may be able to play a Mozart concerto very well at the age of 16, but when you revisit the piece 5 years later, you realize what you thought you knew back then is only the tip of the iceberg. Music humbles you as you get older but also teaches you so much about life and who you are as a person. These master teachers are experts on their instruments and have a wealth of knowledge to share. Perhaps even more importantly, they have wisdom that can only come from years of experience, and that’s what I hope our young musicians will look forward to gain at these master classes–pearls of wisdom on music and life!”
Q: How were the guest artists chosen?
A: Maestro Cha-Pyo connected with artists far and wide to join us. Here she shares a bit about her selection process: “One of the silver linings during this difficult time is the fact that I can engage master teachers from across America and abroad as everything is online. World-class artists who would normally be unable to travel to New Jersey to teach an hour class are now just a zoom link away. I reached out to top performers who are also dynamic teachers and pedagogues—principal players of major orchestras and conservatory professors spanning from South Korea to Seattle to New York. Our NJYS musicians are extremely lucky!”
Q: How do the master classes fit into the New Jersey Youth Symphony’s curriculum this year? I understand students get credit for attending.
A: The Monday Master Class Series complements our virtual rehearsals. In order to ensure students take advantage of all we are offering, we structured the semester similar to that of a pre-college program. The students must fulfill a number of required credits. We felt the credit system would guarantee that we were doing all we could to give the students a full musical experience during a challenging time.
Q: What has the students’ reactions been to the master classes? Do you have any comments or questions they have asked to share?
A: The Monday Master Class Series has been very well attended, and our viewers seem to thoroughly enjoy them. This is the first time we have been able to offer a series like this, and many families are excited to have us in their homes on Monday evenings over Zoom.
“Where is the link?” is the most frequent question I field. Anyone is welcome to join us by signing up on our website. For NJYS families, we have special links to help us keep track of attendance in our Member Portal.
Q: So far, which master class did you enjoy the most? Has one class stood out as leaving a lasting impact?
A: I have absolutely loved all of them! This is a rare chance to explore so many different instruments in one series. I have learned more about phrasing, understanding what the composer was trying to express through the music, and going back to basics with technique than I thought possible. Along with the students, I’ve also learned about air support and use of air, how tricky oboe reeds can be, and even how close a trumpeter’s lips should be with a close-up camera view! Each master teacher has shared a world of experience with us, and their tips, tricks, and advice applies to all instruments.
Q: Of the remaining master classes, which one are you most looking forward to attending?
A: I am thrilled to continue learning alongside our students! I look forward to all the upcoming classes, from Jazz trombone to flute. I think the one that I am most excited about is the percussion master class on Sunday, November 22. I play the violin, so I have not spent too much time in the percussion section—but I am excited to see what Pablo Rieppi has in store for us.
The percussion master class is the only class airing on a Sunday afternoon at 2:00 p.m., but I hope to see everyone there!
The Monday Master Class Series takes place weekly from 7:00-8:15 p.m. EST through December 14. Viewing for this online series is free via Zoom. For more information, call (908) 771-5544 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.