When your 84 years old...

Thursday, 19 March 2015 21:31 by Judy Sly

A guest blog from community writer Judy Sly

When you are 84 years old, people expect you to start slowing down, to dwell more on the past than the future and be a little averse to trying new things.  

The Modesto Symphony Orchestra is doing none of those things.

It is in the midst of their 84th season with a full plate of performances and educational activities, including a new effort to put musical instruments into the hands of local school children, culminating with a mass performance at the Gallo Center for the Arts.

For several years, MSO has had an Instrument Petting Zoo, a small menagerie of musical instruments for little folks to touch and even try out. The petting zoo visits school classrooms and goes to the Stanislaus County Library for children’s story times.

This past September, for instance, a librarian read the book “Tubby the Tuba” to the assembled preschoolers and elementary age children. “Tubby” laments the fact that he never gets to play the melody; he’s always relegated to the oompah sounds. The other instruments laughed at his wish to play a melody, but Tubby finally gets his chance and the story ends, like children’s books usually do, happily.

The children then got to hear a real tuba, played by Nathan Gugel, a 15-year-old Hughson High School student who is a member of the Modesto Symphony Youth Orchestra. He played a melody and demonstrated just how low the tuba can go. Then the children lined up to pet. For most, it was their first opportunity to hold a violin and bow or to blow into a trumpet. 

Nathan is a good example of the kind of teens who participate in the Youth Orchestra – talented and determined. Some plan to major in music; others, like Nathan, will keep playing as an avocation. He hopes to attend Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, majoring in physics with a minor in music. 

The youth symphony performed side-by-side with the professional musicians of the MSO on Nov. 7 and 8. The youth have one more of their own concerts scheduled the afternoon of May 16.

The youth symphony also recently performed on March 13, joined by hundreds of local elementary school students playing recorders. The concert was the culminating feature of a new partnership with the Carnegie Hall LinkUp Education Program.  

Modesto Symphony is one of 70 orchestras across the nation participating in the Carnegie Hall program this year. Carnegie provides, at no cost to the local symphonies or schools, the curriculum and a handbook for teachers and a workbook for each student. The schools will be able to purchase inexpensive, high-quality soprano recorders. Most important, the third- through fifth-grade students will get what for many will be their first music lessons. 

“For some kids, this recorder will be the only instrument they ever have,” says Caroline Nickel, president and CEO of the MSO. The plan is to make this an ongoing program, limited only by the size of the 1,200-plus-seat Rogers Theater. 

Music instruction in the schools has been reduced dramatically in recent years. The typical music teacher has to visit multiple campuses each week, and many families cannot afford to rent or buy a violin, clarinet or other instrument.

The Carnegie LinkUp program is intended to help fill the gap and ideally whet some young appetites to further pursue music or to have a little better understanding as listeners.

Modesto has a long and rich tradition of music instruction and performance. History books say that the youngsters were offered piano lessons soon after the city was founded in 1870. 

The oldest ongoing performance group is what we now know as Mo Band, which performs the popular summer series of concerts at Graceada Park. Frank “Proof” Mancini, who taught at Modesto High School for years, was the popular conductor of Mo Band, originally called the Stanislaus County Boys Band.  Lesser known is the fact that Mancini was one of three founders and the inaugural conductor of the Modesto Symphony, which performed its first concert in April 1931. Few cities of Modesto’s size at that time – about 14,000 people – boasted their own symphony orchestra. 

The symphony has had many homes over the decades: churches, Modesto High School, the Modesto Junior College gymnasium and then the MJC auditorium. Like several other performing groups, it now is proud to be one of the resident companies of the Gallo Center for the Arts, a venue that routinely draws comments from guest soloists and conductors because of its amazing acoustics. 

Traditional symphonic music that was the initial fare of the Modesto Symphony continues to be featured in the five concerts in the Classic Series each year. There also is the Hilmar Cheese Company Pop Concert series that this year includes a holiday jazz concert Dec. 5 and 6, a Louis Armstrong Tribute on March 13 and Comedy Meets Symphony on June 5. 

The symphony kicks off each season with “Picnic at the Pops” on the beautiful grounds of the E.&J. Gallo Winery. The event has become a community favorite, usually drawing 3,000 to 4,000 people.  

At three concerts during the year, the orchestra is joined by the Modesto Symphony Orchestra Chorus, featuring more than 140 singers of all ages and experience, most of them local residents.

Like other of the so-called “high art forms,” symphonies are changing their tune to reach a population with less knowledge of classical music. 

“Over the last 20 years, symphonies have experimented in all sorts of ways, with concerts devoted to a single theme or a single composer or with multimedia presentations”, says David Lockington, MSO’s music director since 2007. “We have accepted that people have become more visually oriented and their attention spans are shorter.” 

Audiences of decades were well versed in the works of Brahms, Beethoven and other composers. These days, Lockington provides a brief background before almost every piece, using a conversational style that suggests -- you probably know this, but let me remind you just in case.

One way to fill the house was to bring in the top name soloists, but these days the best-known names in classical aren’t all that widely known. And the top 20 are very expensive. So the Modesto Symphony has used other strategies – bringing in a soloist with a tie to the community, such as Broadway performer Jeremy Stolle, who came back to his hometown for the 2013 Holiday Pops concert, or featuring a piece by a local composer. In February 2012, the symphony orchestra performed “Gran Turismo,” by Modestan Andrew Norman. In the same year, Andrew was a finalist for the Pulitzer Price in music.  

Guest artists also have included some promising up-and-comers. The opening concert of the current Classic Season, for example, featured 18-year-old violinist Randall Goosby, who is studying at the Julliard School in New York City. He may not be famous today, but concert-goers suggested he could be some day.

The challenge for the Modesto Symphony is to adapt in ways to make concerts interesting and entertaining, but not to get sidelined by bells and whistles, says Lockington. “Do you want to promote distractions when the goal is to focus on the core mission, the music?”

Lockington doesn’t think only about audience appeal in selecting music. He also wants to challenge the musicians, nearly all of whom are professionals playing in several orchestras around Northern California. 

The Music Director also wants to mix it up a bit. While some concert-goers are content with a program of the old standbys, others are eager to hear the works of new composers or new arrangements. Still others find concerts a place to unplug from the daily life, even to close their eyes and doze for a few moments. “Any of those reactions is OK,” Lockington says. People need to find places to be renewed mentally, physically and spiritually. They might find that renewal in a book or a play or a walk along the river – or in listening to a symphony orchestra perform.  

For eight decades, Modestans have had that last opportunity and it will be around for years to come. As Nickel, the Symphony CEO, says, the Modesto Symphony Orchestra is “84 years strong.”

Judy Sly
Modesto Resident and Retired Modesto Bee Editor 

Share your L-O-V-E for music education & MSYO this February!

Monday, 9 February 2015 21:33 by Maureen Quinn

This February, we are launching a month long giving campaign to raise funds, awareness and promote the talented kids within our Youth Orchestra program. Fresh off of their summer performance tour to New York City and Carnegie Hall, the MSYO has grown to a 100 members strong and represents over 40 public and private schools from the Central Valley!

The group rehearses weekly at CSU Stanislaus and performs three concerts each season on stage at the Gallo Center for the Arts. Special mentoring opportunities are a cornerstone of this program in which our youth musicians receive coaching from symphony musicians and artistic staff and culminates with a side-by-side performance with the professional musicians of MSO.  Just imagine what powerful experiences these must be for aspiring young musicians!

According to a UC Irvine study published in 1997 in Neurological Researchearly music training dramatically enhances children's abstract reasoning skills”. In fact the study shows that “these findings indicate that music uniquely enhances higher brain functions required for mathematics, chess, science and engineering”.

So how can you support music education and show love for our youth orchestra? BECOME A DONOR! Your gift can make a difference and go to support tuition scholarships for underserved youth, future programming, instruments, performance touring opportunities and much more! With so many reasons to give, who would miss this opportunity to show love for the MSYO?

Click here to donate today and show a little L-O-V-E for our local youth symphony musicians!


Youth Orchestra Season Starting off the Season with a Bang!

Monday, 10 November 2014 22:15 by Maureen Quinn

It has been exciting few months for members of our youth orchestra. Our talented students formally kicked-off their 38th Season with a Retreat Day earlier this fall.  In which our youth musicians had a special opportunity to work with members of our professional, adult orchestra for concentrated skill development and to practice together. The fun was topped off with a pizza party and cake.

New leadership!

We would also like to extend a warm welcome to the newest member of the Youth Orchestra family Donald C. Grishaw, who took to the podium this season as our new Concert Orchestra Conductor. Girshaw, the Orchestra Director at Pitman High School, has been a playing for the Modesto Symphony as musician for a number of years. He joins Ryan Murray, our Youth Symphony Conductor and Music Director and Ella Webb, our Youth Symphony wind specialist, in inspiring our young musicians to grow their skills and expand their performance experience. To view Mr. Grishaw’s bio, click here>

MSYO Serves the City
A new component of our Youth Symphony this year is our special ensembles program, sponsored by a grant from the Stanislaus Community Foundation. Students are selected to participate based on ability and are given extra instruction to grow their repertoire and musical skill. In return, these talented students give back to the community by performing at elementary schools with our Instrument Petting Zoo, before MSO concerts, at Samaritan Village, and at partner service agencies. It’s a great way to give back to the community and witness the life-changing gift of live musical performance. We are looking forward to the growth and encouragement of these talented students through the year and hope you will follow their progress.

Picnic at the Pops!
A Glowing Success with MSYO!

The 2014 Picnic at the Pops event was all aglow with the festive glow sticks, rings, bracelets and earrings sold by our MSYO students to benefit the MSYO. Proceeds help fund MSYO field trips to area schools where the Youth Orchestra performs for elementary children in after school programs.

MSYO In Concert
The MSYO did an amazing job during their side-by-side performance of “Finlandia” this weekend with the Modesto Symphony Orchestra. Side-by-Side performance opportunities are integral part of our Youth orchestra experience. This concert helped our young musicians understand the inner workings of a professional orchestra up close and personal.

“ I love doing side-by-side concerts!” said MSO Principal Violist Patricia Whaley. Ms. Whaley, pictured in the left, appeared on stage with her MSYO playing partner Sydney.  The two shared a music stand and played with over 100 professional and youth orchestra musicians this past weekend at the Gallo Center for the Arts.
“It’s great fun, and an educational experience for everyone involved…” said Whaley “ I find it refreshing to be surrounded by the genuine enthusiasm of the Youth Orchestra members; it helps me get back in touch with my own love for what I do.”

Playing experiences such as these allows for the growth of mentoring relationships between the students and their partner professional musicians.  “These young musicians may choose other career paths,” said Whaley “but an understanding of the kind of teamwork, trust, and personal responsibility that orchestra playing requires, and it translates well to almost any profession.”

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Modesto Symphony Youth Orchestra tours NYC!

Friday, 15 August 2014 20:00 by Alyssa Milano

This summer brought many exciting new adventures for the Modesto Symphony Youth Orchestra musicians! From June 13th through June 19th, MSYO members had the opportunity to travel to New York City and perform at the prestigious Carnegie Hall with the Napa Youth Symphony.

Twenty five of MSYO's finest, ages 12-18, represented our talented youth community with honors at both an outdoor performance at the Naumberg Bandshell in Central Park and at the Stern Auditorium of Carnegie Hall for the "Sounds of Summer" performance where they shared the stage with four youth orchestras from around the world. The students participated in a NY Phil Young Composers Workshop where they were able to learn the basics of composition and create their very own piece, they attended a NY Philharmonic rehearsal at the Lincoln Center, boarded a Spirit Cruise with scenic views of Manhattan, attended Broadway's production of "Aladdin" and explored around the city. They visited the Statue of Liberty, Empire State Building, Times Square, The Museum of Modern Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art and many more historic locations. It was a very exciting tour and we can't wait for the next one!

Interested in seeing more photos? Check out our photo album on Facebook!

Instrument Petting Zoo Travels to Beard Elementary

Saturday, 17 May 2014 04:14 by Maureen Quinn

Earlier this month after school students from Beard Elementary had a unique education presentation from our very own Amy Sullivan, Manager of Operations. The afternoon visit was complete with a presentation of our Instrument Petting Zoo for at 100 children and included a performance from select members of our Youth Orchestra.

The Modesto Symphony Youth Orchestra played pieces from composers such as Rossini and Beethoven. Their performance also included a the theme from “Star Wars,” during which the conductor Anne Martin used a light saber as her baton.

Our instrument petting zoo is guided opportunity that allows elementary school students to get know, hold and play the instrument of their choice. If you are interested in having the petting zoo perform for your students, click here to visit our website and learn more.

And the 2014 Symphony Guild Scholarship Winner is ...

Saturday, 17 May 2014 00:03 by Alyssa Milano

The Modesto Symphony Orchestra Guild is proud to announce the 2014 winner of the Scholarship Award is Emily McAlister. The Guild Music Scholarship is a $2500 award given out each spring to graduating high school seniors that continue their music education. This coming year, she will attend Brigham Young University to major in nursing and minor in music.

Emily is violinist in the the Modesto Symphony Youth Orchestra and the winner of the 2013-14 Modesto Symphony Youth Orchestra's Concerto Competition. Emily has been playing the violin since age four, starting in the Modesto Suzuki Association with Marta Guevara. At age six, she started piano lessons and has continued with both instruments, including playing the organ regularly in church on Sundays. She has been a member of Modesto Symphony Youth Orchestra for seven years and has always enjoyed the opportunity to play with a full symphony. She has participated in the County Honor Orchestra for six years and was concert mistress for three of those years. In 2012, she had the opportunity to attend CODA, a regional orchestra, and the California All-State Orchestra in 2013. Emily has received multiple superior and Command Performance ratings for solos, duets and quartets in CMEA. She is currently the student of Bogdana Mindov and a senior at Pitman High School, where she excels as an honor student. After school, Emily has been giving her own violin and piano lessons to younger musicians as well. Congratulations Emily and we wish you the best at Brigham Young University!


Class is in Session!

Friday, 11 April 2014 17:46 by Maureen Quinn

It was not a typical Monday morning for students in Professor Stuart Simms conducting class at CSU Stanislaus School of Music. Amongst the fresh faced group of future music professionals in attendance was an all too familiar face in the Modesto classical music scene, our very own Maestro David Lockington! As part of the Symphony’s collaborative education outreach programs, Maestro Lockington facilitated a conducting clinic for over 40 students from the University’s Music Department.

Students in attendance had the opportunity to conduct a University chamber ensemble and receive feedback on their conducting technique and podium presence. “A professional conducting clinic is a very rare opportunity for undergraduate music students, especially one with a clinician of this caliber” said Simms. “Our students grew a great deal both in preparation for this event, and because of David’s outstanding feedback and coaching.”

“Working with Maestro Lockington is an amazing experience” said CSU student Brian Lewsadder. “He was able to identify and communicate ways that I could improve my conducting in a positive, efficient manner. David’s knowledge and expertise in the field allows him to work with and mentor conductors ranging from the first year conducting student to seasoned professionals.”

Over the past thirty-five years, David Lockington has developed an impressive conducting career in the United States. A native of Great Britain, he has served as the Music Director of the Grand Rapids Symphony Orchestra since January 1999 and has held the same position with the Modesto Symphony since May 2007.

This conducting clinic is one of the many educational outreach programs that the Modesto Symphony offers to music students of all ages and ability levels. If you are interested in learning about more music education opportunities please contact Amy Sullivan, Manager of Operations at asullivan@modestosymphony.org.

Savor Spaghetti & Support our Youth Musicians in March!

Thursday, 6 March 2014 01:17 by Maureen Quinn

If you’re looking for a great reason to indulge in wine, pasta and fantastic music look no further! On Saturday, March 29, 2014 the Modesto Symphony Youth Orchestra presents Strings: Spaghetti & Symphony. This will be a wonderful night of amazing appetizers, a delicious spaghetti dinner, raffle and of course, world class music.

This annual fundraising event for the members of the Youth Orchestra kicks off at 5:30 p.m. at the Riverbank Community Center with anti-pasti and wine accompanied by performances from our youth musicians. Dinner, which includes spaghetti, salad and artisanal bread is served by our youth symphony members and strolling violinists thread through tables serenading attendees. The evening concludes with a tantalizing dessert auction and a chance to nab some fantastic items during our raffle and silent auctions.

Proceeds from this event will go directly to the youth and program activities for the Modesty Symphony Youth Orchestra. Supporting the MSYO is one of the direct ways to benefit the student musicians in our community.

Tickets for Strings: Spaghetti and Symphony are $35 and include dinner and the first glass of wine. Additional wine and other beverages will be available for purchase. For more information or to buy tickets, call Alyssa Milano at the Symphony Office at 209.523.4156 x108 or by email at amilano@modestosymphony.org.

Photos from Strings: Spaghetti & Symphony 2013



* Event photographs by Ms. Moody Photos


Show a little L-O-V-E for the Youth Orchestra

Tuesday, 4 February 2014 18:03 by Maureen Quinn

How do 50,000 young people in the US learn the art of team work, self discipline and individual expression -  by playing in a youth orchestra! According to a report published by the League of American Orchestras in 2013, there are only 500 youth orchestras across America. The statistics are staggering, but did you know that Modesto is one of those lucky places in the country to have a youth orchestra of their very own? For over 37 seasons the Modesto Symphony Youth Orchestra has shared the love of classical music by serving nearly 100 member musicians and their families annually from over forty public and private schools in the Central Valley.

This February the Modesto Symphony is launching a giving campaign to raise funds, awareness and love for our Modesto Symphony Youth Orchestra. Donations will help support tuition scholarships for underserved youth, future programming, instruments, performance touring opportunities  and much more! With so many reason to give, who would miss this opportunity to show love for the MSYO? Click here to donate today and show a little L-O-V-E for our local youth symphony musicians before March 25th!

MSYO members are enjoying their summers!

Wednesday, 10 July 2013 18:28 by Alyssa Milano

Member: Frankie Flood

Instrument: Trumpet
Years of Study: 8
Years in MSYO: 3
Age: 17

Attending any summer music camps?: Yes, the Brubeck Jazz Institute (June 17-22) and Senior Music Camp (July 14-20)
Favorite summer activity: I like to spend time with friends and play music - Jam sessions or participating in MoBand
Family trips this summer: Stanislaus County Fair in July
Best MSYO memory from this past year: I love every moment I spend with the MSYO but, my best memory may be from the beginning of the year, when everyone joined in a circle and we all played a game to get to know each other’s names.
Auditioning for next year?: Yes, I have auditioned for the next season and can’t wait! This will be my third year with the Symphony Orchestra. I even convinced a friend of mine to audition as well.

Member: Sabina Villalobos

Instrument: Violin
Years of Study: 11
Years in MSYO: 4
Age: 14

Attending any summer music camps?: No, not this year.
Favorite summer activity: Hanging out with friends, reading, keeping up with current events, baking and learning the music to musicals. 
Family trips this summer: We’re going to Panama on July 1st. We will be celebrating my 15th birthday as well as my mother’s.
Best MSYO memory from this past year: Probably the first time we had seating auditions. I was really nervous but was trying to look cool and not stress out. I went in and did my audition,  missing the shift by a smidge which made me really upset. Ms. Martin noticed I was down and pulled me over giving me a very big hug and told her story about the time her audition didn’t   do so well. I can always count on Ms. Martin to make me happy.
Auditioning for next year?: Yes, I will be auditioning for the upcoming season.

Member: Faith Tsai

Instrument: Violin
Years of Study: 11
Years in MSYO: 5
Age: 16 

Attending any summer music camps? No, not this year.
Favorite summer activity: Catching up on sleep is my favorite, but I’m obligated to also golf, swim and finish mounds of summer homework.
Family trips this summer: Paris, France and then San Diego, California.
Best MSYO memory from this past year: Ming Luke’s final concert; emotions were high and I felt that his exit was monumental.
Auditioning for next year?: Yes I have.

Member: Amanda Larson

Instrument: Cello
Years of Study: 6
Years in MSYO: 4
Age: 16

Attending any summer music camps? Yes, I participated in the local CSU Stanislaus music camp, which took place from Sunday the 16th through the 22nd of June. 
Favorite summer activity: I enjoy drawing and playing video games.
Family trips this summer: I’m not sure at the moment.
Auditioning for next year?: Yes, I will be auditioning for this next season.


*Pictures listed from above (left to right): Sabina Villalobos, Frankie Flood, Faith Tsai & Amanda Larson