Omaha Area Youth Orchestras Instilling a Lifelong Love of the Arts
Music plays a unique melody in many lives. For some, it is a relaxing hobby to be enjoyed during downtime. For others, it is a meticulous field of study that must be mastered. But for the student musicians of the Omaha Area Youth Orchestras, music is both of these things and much, much more.
The Omaha Area Youth Orchestras (OAYO) was created in 1958 through a joint effort between the metro public schools and the Omaha Symphony Guild to inspire and educate young musicians by providing a rigorous and challenging orchestral experience. Musicians with OAYO become part of an active musical community that fosters discipline, cooperation, and leadership, and they achieve goals through the encouragement of parents, teachers, and schools throughout the Omaha area.
OAYO consists of six ensembles—Youth Symphony, Youth Philharmonic, Youth Conservatory Orchestra, Youth Chamber Strings, Honors Orchestra, and Elementary Strings—that provide instruction and performance opportunities for over 550 students each season from over 100 schools in the Omaha area. Overall, the orchestras are made up of grades 4-12 and offer different levels of difficulty from introductory ensembles, which refine techniques necessary in a full orchestra, to highly proficient ensembles, which perform masterpieces from an advanced orchestral repertoire.
Students audition annually for positions within the four more challenging ensembles or may be recommended by their school or private instructor for positions within the two non-audition orchestras. Although only some of these students will continue on to a professional music career, all of the students are provided with the skills to enjoy the arts as volunteers, teachers, and concert attendees.
Aviva Segall has been with OAYO for 13 years as the music director. She conducts the top two orchestras and is responsible for overall music direction. Segall received a master’s in orchestral conducting from Northwestern University under Victor Yampolsky, who was the conductor for the Omaha Symphony at the time; and she also worked on the conducting staff of the Portland Youth Philharmonic. Her main instrument is the cello—which she studied with Ronald Leonard, former principal cellist with the Los Angeles Philharmonic—but she also plays the bassoon and the piano. Segall says she has to demonstrate for the students every once in a while. “They all wince because I’m not in quite as good of shape as I used to be,” she laughs.
Segall believes OAYO provides many opportunities for youth in the community. “A lot of the orchestras aren’t full orchestras in the [school] districts. OAYO is a full orchestra. The students can expand what they do because of that. We want to prepare them for professional careers in music, teaching, and a lifelong love of the arts. They get the opportunity to work with members of the Omaha Symphony, UNO or UNL faculties, guest artists for Omaha Performing Arts, and Opera Omaha.” Segall jokes that, although the kids don’t get to work with Beethoven or Bach, the students get the chance to work with their composer equivalents today.
“If you want to have faith in the future of our community, spend less than five minutes with any of the musicians from OAYO,” Segall says of the OAYO students, who are also active in their school music programs and the community. “They are engaging and interesting young people who know how to ask good questions, pay attention, and give things their all.”
Arthur Masyuk is an alumna of OAYO. He started in Elementary Strings and moved his way through almost all of the orchestras, spending his last four years of high school in the Youth Symphony. Masyuk has been playing violin since he was seven. “I like it because it has a really passive-active relationship. I control the violin 100 percent, so I’m in control of what I do with my music. As a kid, I loved just making it play; but now it’s more of an intellectual quest.”
Currently, Masyuk is pursuing a degree in violin performance at Indiana University Bloomington’s Jacobs School of Music. He believes that his time with OAYO prepared him well for his studies and career path—and for an upcoming performance of one of Strauss’ largest and most difficult operas, Der Rosenkavalier. “Without the experience, I wouldn’t be in the best orchestra [at my school]. OAYO and Aviva taught me so many skills…it’s very good prep for any musician.”
Masyuk recommends the symphony for any kid who wishes to continue on a music path in college. “I think [orchestral playing is] necessary. It will prepare you for chamber music. But if you just like to play music, and you don’t feel strongly about continuing, I would still recommend it. It’s a great outlet for making friends with kids your age. I came for the music, but the friends make it that much better.”
Yasmeen Bora is a junior at Millard North High School and concertmaster of the Youth Symphony. As concertmaster, she tunes the orchestra before rehearsals and performances and works on bowings and articulation. She’s been playing the violin for 12 years and has been with OAYO since fifth grade. “I started in Elementary Strings, then the Youth Philharmonic, and now I’m in the Youth Symphony,” she says. Bora believes other students from around the city should get involved with OAYO because of the shared love for music and development of friendships OAYO offers. “It’s a great opportunity to play music with other people who are as passionate about music as you are. Some of my best friends are there.”