view counter

Playing Their Way

Musicians start young and work hard

The Chesapeake Youth Symphony.

Allison Reisinger plays chords on her violin, tuning as she waits for her call. When it’s time to show her stuff, she steps onto the stage, a picture of confidence and concentration. Faculty judges sit below, pens ready. Allison takes a deep breath and lifts her instrument to her shoulder. Her fingers and bow slyly dance across the strings.
    Reisinger, of Annapolis and now a senior in violin performance at the University of Maryland, is again looking ahead. The outcome of this graduate program audition could determine the future of her musical career.

A violinist since kindergarten, Allison Reisinger is now a senior in violin performance at the University of Maryland. She has played for many orchestras, including the Chesapeake Youth Symphony.

    A violinist since kindergarten, she played in the Chesapeake Youth Symphony, Maryland All-State Orchestra and Montgomery Classic Youth Orchestra before finishing high school. Step by step, each audition carried more weight. Next, she won a place in the University of Maryland Orchestra, National Philharmonic and National Music Festival Orchestra.
    To apply to top music graduate schools, she works with a recording artist.
    “It takes me two hours to record a 10-minute piece,” she says.

In the Beginning
    At 5:30pm, some kids are watching television, playing with friends or throwing a ball around outside.
    The musicians of the Chesapeake Youth Symphony Orchestra are rehearsing. Other ambitious students are leaving their private teachers’ studios with homework. Once they’re home, they get out their instruments to practice.
    Many began their musical training at four or five years old, as did my sister Alders, now seven. She chose her instrument, the cello, because it’s in the middle of the range of keys for instruments. “I also like that it’s different,” she says. “You get to sit down when you play.”

On the Way Up
    In between beginners and pros are aspiring middle and high school performers. Fourteen-year-old Ann Marie Nolan, of Gambrills, is a veteran of both private lessons and the youth orchestras.
    Ann Marie took up her violin at four years old, learning via the Suzuki method, an approach developed by violinist Shinichi Suzuki of Japan, who believed even young children could be taught to play.
    “When I was 11, my interest diminished, and without much practicing, my playing ability was getting worse,” she says. She was “tired of putting so much time in per day,” and neither she nor her teacher was satisfied with her progress.
    Yet as Ann Marie started to play harder pieces and play in a full orchestra with winds, brass and percussion, her enthusiasm and her skills revived.

“I practice with my brother Charlie,” says Katy Pacher. “He’s a seventh-grader and helps when my valves get stuck or I play a wrong note.”

    At that point, she remembers, “I loved it! I won my auditions again, and my music has been much smoother since then.”
    Ann Marie found aids and attitude improved her practice and her play. She used a pencil, a metronome and a mirror to check herself for flaws. Listening to lots of CDs helped her understand the rhythm, key and intonation of the pieces she was studying. As for the attitude needed to keep up practice, “Keep pushing through it,” she says. “Everything will pay off in the end.”
    Discipline is the biggest challenge.
    Me, I’m a 10-year-old violinist, and my teacher, Sonja Jacykewycz, tells me that progress requires diligence and maturity. I believe her, so I make time to pick up my violin amidst academics, sports, chores and free time. I think staying on top of practice can increase discipline in other areas of life.

Help Along the Way
    As they reach for musical achievement, dedicated young musicians have plenty of help.
    Teachers guide, instruct, demonstrate and correct at lessons, marking songbooks and nudging students in the right direction.
    Parents pick up where the teacher has left off, making notes at lessons, encouraging practice and watching for pitfalls and mistakes.

“I like to play loud,” says Jacob Reeder, left, “but Mom tells me to slow down and play the dynamics.” The 10-year-old has been playing piano since he was six.

    Jacob Reeder, a 10-year-old pianist from Severna Park who began playing in kindergarten at age six, loves to play with his mom, Vanessa Curtis, an accomplished pianist.
    “I like to play loud,” he says, “but Mom tells me to slow down and play the dynamics.”
    My mom, Jennifer Kulynych, helps with my violin and my sister’s cello. “The time and effort can be daunting, especially if you’re not a musician,” she says. “But it’s a great way to build a bond with your child.”
    Siblings can also lend a hand. My friend Katy Pacher, from Davidsonville, started trumpet this year. “I practice with my brother Charlie,” she says. “He’s a seventh-grader and helps when my valves get stuck or I play a wrong note.”
    Ensemble playing is the next big step. At Bates and Brooklyn Park middle schools, performing arts programs teach music theory and techniques and prepare students to play in higher-level orchestras, and learn. The Annapolis Young Artists Program, founded in 2014 by cellist Natalie Spehar, offers group classes, one-on-one lessons, guest performers and institutes to help develop musical — and leadership — skills. The Chesapeake Youth Symphony, in Annapolis, brings together eight-year-olds to high-schoolers in different level orchestras. Young artists also get inspired by Annapolis Symphony Orchestra and guest soloists at Maryland Hall.
    “Success as a group, blending ideas and sounds, is one of the most magical aspects of performing music,” explains Robert Stojakovich, conductor of the Chesapeake Youth Symphony’s Strings Orchestra.
    Playing a part in making magic: That’s why Allison Reisinger has kept practicing for 17 years.
    That’s what all of us musical kids want.