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Youth Orchestra in isolation makes music as one

Virtual performance features 68 student musicians
Published: Jul. 11, 2020 at 6:36 PM CDT
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - The Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras is making music from bedrooms, putting together a virtual performance during the pandemic.

In March, WYSO’s top touring group was just days away from its in-person concert when coronavirus cut the season short. Conductor and musical director Kyle Knox described the time as an “unceremonious ending of our relationship.”

“We were so close, and we had been working for this for months,” Violinist Steven Wilke said, “I couldn’t really put a name to how I was feeling because everything, all of a sudden, was flipped upside down.”

But the orchestra continued to rehearse and showcased their efforts with a recording of the William Tell Overture Finale. It features 68 musicians.

Knox explained how his students “succeeded,” despite having to record an orchestral piece alone.

“It was refreshing to me to see them,” Knox said. “Their morale stayed up. The kids stayed focus and stayed motivated and seemed not just to be persevering but to be thriving in many cases”

Much like the virtual concert, the rehearsals occurred over Zoom. Knox said there were about 1,200 classes between March and May, in which musicians divided into their instrument sections to listen and critique.

Joseph Batterman explained that percussionists like himself had to “get creative” to play instruments that were not accessible at home. For example, he said, a pillow was a good substitute for a snare drum.

Although the student musicians showed resiliency, according to Knox, Batterman and Wilke described feeling disappointed by missed opportunities.

Wilke had played with WYSO for 8 years and graduated high school this spring.

“Quarantine has been somewhat of a double-edged sword because, on the one hand, now we have all this time to practice and get better individually. But I know [for] a lot of people, the thing they enjoy most about playing is playing with others,” Wilke said. “Especially for me, that’s been difficult.”

Batterman said he had looked forward to playing a full repertoire at the Hamel Music Center in March, adding that today, the orchestra would have been in Europe for a tour.

Though disappointed, Batterman and Wilke said they both grew musically during these past several months— a thought their conductor echoed.

“It’s really a remarkable group of young people,” Knox said. “I’m not surprised, but I’m incredibly impressed and grateful to them.”

WYSO’S virtual performance of the William Tell Overture Finale can be found here.

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