Empire State Youth Orchestra (ESYO) cultivates exceptional leaders. ESYO Alumni are leaders in concert halls, classrooms, the corporate world, and the boardroom. They come from all walks of life and work in a wide variety of professional disciplines. What ties them together? Friendships, which began with a shared love of music.
ESYO Alumni Monica Roach, Cathy Gatta, Teresa Gatta-Norton, and Matthew Johnson, began their life-long friendship as members of ESYO's flagship Youth Orchestra in 1980. Today, they are ESYO CHIME Teaching Artists, dedicated to nurturing the next generation of musical youth.
Cathy and Teresa, Glenville, NY natives, auditioned for ESYO at the recommendation of their teacher and ESYO co-founder Lois Fishman Lyman. "It was the first place I learned about how to audition for an ensemble," Cathy says, "the best part was making friends from different schools. We got to meet people from outside of our neighborhood bubble who shared our love of music.”
Violist Matthew Johnson, from South Colonie, vividly remembers the first time he encountered ESYO while in 7th grade. "It was a performance at the Egg in 1980," Johnson recalls. "Burton Kaplan was conducting, and Cathy and Teresa were on stage. I remember saying, wow! I want to do that."
Cellist Monica Roach joined ESYO around the same time as Matt. “Matt sat next to me in the viola section and quickly became one of my greatest friends," Monica says, “We all [Cathy and Teresa, Matt and I] had so much fun together.” Matt adds, "Monica and I shared so many memorable moments, including playing in a quartet of principal players. I will never forget that our first paid gig was because of ESYO,"
After ESYO, life took the four friends in different directions. Matt moved to NYC and studied music at the Mannes School of Music, while beginning a career as a freelance musician. His ties to ESYO gave him a boost. A fellow violist and ESYO Alum helped him arrange his first freelance gig. Matt went on to perform on Broadway with the Tony Award-Winning production of "Sunset Boulevard" with Glenn Close and earned a position with the virtuosic Orchestra of St. Luke’s.
By contrast, Matt’s friend Monica had no intention of pursuing a career in music. “I wanted to be a doctor,” recounts Monica. But by her third year in college, she found she was missing music. “That’s when I chose to earn a music degree.” Like Matt, her career brought her to New York City, where she performed in Broadway’s Footloose. Monica also collaborated with GRAMMY Award-winning artist Vernon Reid in the Brooklyn Academy of Music performance of Donald Byrd's Jazztrain, recorded twenty-five albums with various artists, and played with the innovative Lawrence Butch Morris Conduction Project, the Trans-Siberian Orchestra, and the Albany Symphony.
Monica and Matthew reconnected as colleagues at the Julliard School of Music in the Music Advancement Program. Both having returned to the Capital Region, they carpooled to Julliard to work with aspiring young musicians.
The Gatta sisters studied music at Ithaca College. "If it wasn't for ESYO,” Cathy says, “I wouldn't have thought of pursuing music in college. I wanted to be a studio musician or play in a band, and I got to do both.” As a college senior, Cathy performed in the Walt Disney World All-American College Orchestra, where she got to play with musicians such as Dave Brubeck and Rosemary Clooney, and film score composers like Bill Conti and Peter Matz.. After college, Cathy moved to L.A. and worked as a studio musician, before feeling drawn back to the Capital Region to pursue a marketing career and raising her family in Scotia. "ESYO helped prepare me for more than just a music career. Burton Kaplan was our conductor, and he taught us to work as a team,” says Cathy. I will never forget when he stopped the orchestra and asked me what the French Horn was playing. Like most young musicians, I didn't listen beyond my section, and it turned out the French Horn was playing the same thing I was! I learned to listen more," she recalls. "This continues to influence my volunteer work at the Freedom Park Summer Concert Series, my public service as a Schenectady County Legislator. It all comes down to listening, and it is something I work on every day. How can I be a better listener?”
ESYO CHIME brought the quartet of friends together again five years ago. CHIME evolved out of an ESYO program Monica had led for some time, called City Strings. Designed to expand access to students, City Strings provided free private lessons during the school day in Albany and Schenectady. In 2015, ESYO dramatically expanded this initiative with the launch of CHIME. As an afterschool program, CHIME provides youth the opportunity to learn and grow as musicians in an ensemble setting. All four friends are teaching artists with CHIME. “ We are serving the community directly,” Matt says, “providing access to music lessons and planting the seeds of excellence.” Monica agrees, “working with Matt, Cathy, and Teresa is amazing, they all have that ‘special something,’ that helps kids get along in music and life.” All four are consummate musicians and dedicated educators. In 2013, Congressman Paul Tonko recognized Monica's commitment and passion for teaching with a Congressional Proclamation for Teaching Excellence.
"Music has always been a part of our lives," says Monica, noting that ESYO served as a critical building block for all of them. Reflecting on their shared history, Cathy says, "there is a special bond between us that formed while we played together in ESYO. I love working with them now at CHIME.”
Today, we salute ESYO Alumni Monica Roach, Matthew Johnson, Cathy Gatta, and Teresa Gatta-Norton. We honor their life-long love of music and friendship, and applaud their dedication to nourishing the next generation of musicians. "Music has a profound effect on children,” Cathy says, “It develops their brains, helps them in school, and encourages them to be focused and disciplined. When I see them striving to master new music, I can see their brains growing as they work it out. The fact that I am part of that moment is beyond words."