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'There is no technological substitute for it': Greensboro Youth Orchestra resumes in-person rehearsals — outdoors
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'There is no technological substitute for it': Greensboro Youth Orchestra resumes in-person rehearsals — outdoors

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GREENSBORO — This is not your typical orchestra venue.

It's the Warwick sports pavilion at the YMCA Camp Weaver, a summer camp, retreat and outdoor education facility located on 132 acres in the southeast section of the city. 

But then again, this is not your typical year.

The COVID-19 pandemic has kept the Greensboro Symphony Youth Orchestra's three ensembles from rehearsing together in person since spring. Rehearsals moved online.

That changed Sunday, when masked members gathered at a social distance under the expansive, roofed pavilion for the start of weekly fall rehearsals.

For many, it was their first in-person reunion in months.

"It's great to be back here!" said 16-year-old violist Bailey Rickman, greeting symphony Education Director Peter Zlotnick.

UNCG, where the orchestra usually rehearses in the School of Music, is not hosting outside groups this fall because of the pandemic.

So leaders of the Greensboro Symphony Orchestra, which offers the youth orchestra program, had to find an alternative.

They searched for venues that met guidelines from the American String Teachers Association and other professional associations. In addition to masks and physical distancing, those guidelines encourage outdoor rehearsals if feasible.

Zlotnick arranged access to Camp Weaver.

Open on all sides, the pavilion offers good airflow while protecting players from the sun and elements.

It's large enough to accommodate physically-distanced groups as large as state guidelines will currently allow outdoors — a maximum of 50. Each of the three ensembles that used it separately Sunday were smaller than that.

And "acoustics are surprisingly good," Zlotnick said as he listened.

Sunday's temperatures in the mid-70s won't last all fall. So musicians won't be able to rehearse there when it turns cold, Zlotnick said.

The orchestra hopes to return to UNCG for the winter and spring.

The orchestra program has more than 100 young musicians divided among the ensembles: Youth Strings, mostly middle school students with a few elementary schoolers; Youth Philharmonic, middle and high school students; and Youth Orchestra, mostly high school students with the occasional eighth grader.

Program Music Director Evan Feldman leads the Youth Orchestra of strings, woodwinds, brass and percussion. Violinist Colleen Chenail conducts the Youth Philharmonic; Heather Lofdahl leads the Youth Strings.

Members come from across the Triad and beyond.

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This fall, they will have both in-person and online rehearsal activities. 

"Although all three GSYO orchestras have exciting virtual activities planned, ensemble music making really needs to be done together," Feldman said.

"It's like dancing, or theater or basketball," Feldman said. "You can do it individually, but it's so powerful to be able to collaborate with others. And home internet doesn't easily allow for large groups of people to synchronously make music together from their homes."

In ensuing rehearsals, his Youth Orchestra members also will break into smaller chamber ensembles and rehearse in mini-pavilions around the camp. 

For friends Chaeyon Jang and Annie Vo, the rehearsal brought their first in-person meeting in months. They had stayed in touch through the Snapchat messaging app. 

The high school seniors, both violinists, talked about preparing for college. "College applications are coming up soon," Jang said.

Twin brothers Maceo and Miles Fowler, 16-year-old violists, waited quietly for rehearsal to start.

"It's been awhile since I've been around so many people," Maceo Fowler said.

This marks Katie McIntosh's first year with the Youth Orchestra. She recently moved to Thomasville from Holly Springs.

"I don't know anyone, so it's a little awkward for me," said McIntosh, a senior who plays B flat trumpet.

"But I think it will go well," McIntosh said. "I love music and everyone else here does too."

She expects to learn more in person than online. "When you are online you are working apart, even if you can see each other on a screen," McIntosh said. 

When Lofdahl finished leading the Youth Strings rehearsal, Youth Orchestra members carried in their own music stands and tuned their instruments.

Feldman led the 48 musicians in rehearsing Beethoven's "Egmont Overture" and Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel's "Overture in C."

Some members of the Youth Orchestra and Youth Strings will participate in workshops remotely on world music and digital music-making.

Chenail followed the Youth Orchestra with the Youth Philharmonic rehearsal. Some members watched via Zoom from home.

Safety concerns will prevent the orchestra from presenting traditional concerts with a live audience this fall.

But the orchestra plans to record and stream a performance online in November, Feldman said.

Like the young musicians, Feldman was glad to return to in-person collaboration.

"We can teach music no matter what the format," Feldman said. "But what they’re doing here, there is no technological substitute for it."

Contact Dawn DeCwikiel-Kane at 336-373-5204 and follow @dawndkaneNR on Twitter.

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