“Just the facts, ma’am” may be the philosophy of the newsroom, but colorful stories of intrigue and passion are the lifeblood of music. Cal Stewart Kellogg, conductor of the Youth Symphony of the Southwest, likes to emphasize that to his students and audience members.
“What if the opening chord was the color of the dungeon?” Kellogg asked the young musicians at rehearsal last week. “Can we put that picture in our minds or have we completely lost them?”
The kids chuckled, sat up straight and then played the chord, evoking the dark, dank bowels of an eighteenth century prison. For the rest of the evening, the group worked diligently, putting the final touches on Beethoven’s “Leonore Overture No. 3” for their concert Monday at Mesa Arts Center. The overture is from the opera “Fidelio” — the story of political dissident Florestan, who escaped from prison with the help of his wife, Leonore.
The Youth Symphony of the Southwest is the East Valley’s premier youth symphony. They are on par with top youth symphonies like the Metropolitan and Phoenix Youth Symphonies. Though a relative new-comer to the Valley’s symphonic scene, the group has almost doubled in size since starting six years ago and has hopes of starting a secondary group next year. This success is due largely to the high musical standards of director Cal Stewart Kellogg, maestro for the Symphony of the Southwest and formerly Arizona Opera.
“He’s professional and he’ll teach them in a professional way that they can understand and will help them to be better players,” said Ann Kingsley, mother of principal trumpet player Galen Kingsley. “We wanted Galen to continue having an orchestral experience and didn’t want to go into Phoenix for the Phoenix Youth Symphony,” said Kingsley, whose husband, John Kingsley, plays principal trumpet for Symphony of the Southwest. “We wanted to stay over here and we really like Cal Kellogg,” she said.
Patricia Cosand, a long-time Valley string teacher and administrator for the Youth Symphony of the Southwest, also noted that their group’s age requirements (15-20) start where the Metropolitan Youth Symphony’s ninth grade age limit ends. This cooperation creates an easy transition, allowing MYS musicians to graduate into the Youth Symphony of the Southwest, which happens frequently, Cosand said.
“MYS kids know more and more about us because the ninth graders of last year, and the year before, are playing in our group and they pass the word along,” said Kellogg, pointing out that qualified college-age musicians are also welcome.
Unlike some community orchestras, the Youth Symphony of the Southwest holds annual auditions. Over 100 kids auditioned this season, with 75 making the cut.
Those who do must work hard and learn the music relatively quickly. “We are averaging five rehearsals and then a concert,” said Kellogg. “It’s not for the squeamish. If you have the chops, you can play.”
Galen Kingsley has the chops. Though only in 10th grade, Galen passed the audition and is now the Youth Symphony’s principal trumpet player. His skills will be on display Monday night when he delivers the signature off-stage trumpet call in Beethoven’s “Leonore Overture No. 3.”
Based on his performance during rehearsal, Galen will be up to the challenge and will perform the difficult passage with aplomb.
This attitude characterizes the entire group. They work diligently during practice and cheerfully accepts correction from Kellogg, who is not afraid to point out inaccuracies or missed cues.
“I actually don’t mind (being corrected),” said Kingsley. “It’s the professional way to deal with it.”
Kellogg knows he pushes his students, but his goal is to train a new generation of professional musicians and future patrons of symphonic music. “We take kids that are talented and give them further experience,” Kellogg said. “To give kids that chance is worthwhile. Everyone benefits in the end.”
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