Schenectady, NY- The Empire State Youth Orchestra (ESYO), known regionally and nationally for challenging and inspiring young people to achieve excellence through music, has adapted its rigorous education model for online learning. ESYO's transition to virtual learning will keep 600 young musicians from the region's cities and suburbs actively engaged in music-making while so much of normal life is on pause due to the spread of COVID-19. Last Tuesday, all 101 members of the Symphony Orchestra attended ESYO’s first virtual session.
"Music, by nature, is a joyful pursuit that is to be shared with others," said Rebecca Calos, ESYO's Executive Director. “Even though we cannot be together, ESYO students and our dedicated team of conductors and teaching artists are pushing forward and finding new ways to play, learn, and grow online in virtual classrooms.” Calos continued.
The virtual program invites members to turn their living rooms into practice rooms, while the conductors and teaching artists deliver instruction using virtual platforms and techniques familiar to their students. Ensembles like ESYO's Symphony Orchestra come together weekly for group-based learning and youth leaders within the orchestra facilitate regular sectional rehearsals. Music Director Carlos Ágreda, who joined ESYO in 2018, sees virtual learning as a new pathway to engage with youth musicians, enhance the ESYO program, and facilitate skill development for the 21st century. "Technology allows ESYO to extend education beyond the rehearsal and to deliver instruction to students at home in direct and meaningful ways," said Ágreda. "In many ways, the current pause of public gatherings is serving as a catalyst for us to rethink and retool our program for the future," he continued.
ESYO's venture into online learning extends across all 13 ensembles and programs. Students enrolled in CHIME, ESYO’s school-based El Sistema-inspired program, will also continue receiving instruction online. “We are thrilled to continue partnering with our local school districts as we shift our CHIME program into a virtual space,” said CHIME Director Jared Shortmeier “Our creative team of teaching artists and site managers have been working hard to make sure that this critical program continues to enrich the lives of our students.”
ESYO, at the recommendation of state officials, has postponed all spring performances until a later date. “Our young musicians have worked incredibly hard to prepare for these performances and are eager to share it with the world, said Ágreda. “Our staff is working on plans to showcase all our ensembles in a “Post-Corona” musical celebration. When the time is right, we will be ready.” he continued.
“Our young musicians love music and love to share it! Therefore, we will keep our virtual doors open to offer opportunities for our members to share their love for music and to engage them in a joyful pursuit of musical excellence. This will include exploring new and innovative ways to perform online using familiar technology,” said Calos. ESYO members have created an Instagram campaign to remind the world that #MusicIsNotCancelled. Current ESYO members and alumni are encouraged to record a video of themselves playing their favorite song or a tune that they composed. Videos posted on Instagram that tag @EmpireStateYO and use #MusicIsNotCancelled will be collected and shared on ESYO.org in a virtual concert hall.