Teens Find Confidence with Music
MacPhail Northside Youth Orchestra
The laughter’s free, the smiles, and so is participation in the MacPhail Northside Youth Orchestra (MNYO). For 5 years now, the orchestra has graced venue stages across the Twin City area, from MacPhail’s own Antonello Hall to the Orchestra Hall at Minnesota Orchestra. MNYO evolved out of MacPhail’s School Partnership program. MacPhail works with schools all over the state of Minnesota. Ascension is one of the longest partnerships in the program, running since 1989. At Ascension, MacPhail teaching artists provide music education for all students K-2nd grades and run an after school string program for grades 3-8. There was a need to provide continuity for the older students and MNYO was born.
Now, MNYO is also open to youth outside of Ascension. Students as young as 12 and as old as 17 have joined the ensemble, gifted with instruments like the clarinet, trumpet, violin, and more. What they find is a program dedicated to more than just harnessing their latent ability. With MNYO, they discover a community of musical peers, fellow students and dedicated teachers who want to bring out nothing less than their very best, on stage and off.
For three years, she’s been working with the orchestra, first as a “second set of hands,” then in the leadership role she holds today. Chi-Chi took over in the fall of 2020 with a clear vision of where she wanted to take the program. Her goal – spread music far and spread music wide. That’s what separates MNYO from other programs.
Some schools pride themselves on having only high caliber students with years and years of training. These highly selective schools limit recruitment based on instruments, so that everyone has their own neatly defined roles.
Chi-Chi thinks differently. She remains fervent in her belief that classical music is for everyone capable and willing to learn an instrument. All students need prior to an audition is an instrument and one year of training. And MNYO doesn’t limit students based on their instruments. She doesn’t mind having too many trumpet players or too many clarinet players. There’s no such thing as too much for Chi-Chi. As a seasoned conductor she is accustomed to rewriting music to accommodate the orchestra’s needs. What’s important is giving every student a chance to play and explore the world of music.
There are few things in life that bring Chi-Chi as much joy as her students. From the moment they audition to the first time they take to stage; she has witnessed quite a few transformations.
One memory from last year is of a new and shy student who entered the program. His teacher hoped that he would open up by joining the orchestra, but in-person classes were cancelled due to the pandemic. During Zoom rehearsals, he showed up, played, but didn’t say much. Little did Chi-Chi know; transformation was happening behind the scenes.
When the orchestra recorded their “Uptown Funk” video, he showed up and showed out! “Oh my gosh. Who is this child?” she thought, as her jaw hit the floor.
That’s a change that happened when students couldn’t see each other face to face. Imagine what happens on a normal basis!
Parents too have reacted to the orchestra’s success. One mother told Chi-Chi, “I have never seen him practicing so willingly, ever.” Other parents have praised the program, recounting how their children could go to MNYO and not feel out of place. Being a teen can be hard, but MNYO knows how to make life a bit easier and more fun.
As much as the parents talked, the teens themselves did too. One of Chi-Chi’s cello players was incredibly happy when he realized they would be playing musical pieces that weren’t only classical. Others have grown in their on-stage confidence. And each of them benefits from the camaraderie that comes from rehearsals. “Practicing your instrument can be very lonely,” but the students of MNYO have a great means of “finding your own people.”
Something happens when these students find each other. After they put their talents on display during rehearsals, their work takes on a life of its own on stage. There’s nothing quite like the experience. Chi-Chi and the team of teachers are constantly impressed by how good they sound. They work hard for about five to six weeks, encouraging one another along the way. The students have an uncanny way of motivating one another. Those who need reassurance receive that and more. Then they get on stage, and the ensemble’s music seems to bloom like a flower spreading its petals. Colorful and beautiful.
Afterwards, they head back to rehearsal and prepare for the next big thing.
As Chi-Chi often tells them, “The sun comes up everyday.” Taking on life with a positive attitude, makes everything so much easier. There’s always work to be done, rehearsals to schedule, and performances ahead. After last year’s unforeseen challenge, MNYO is no stranger to obstacles, but Chi-Chi remains certain, whatever happens, they can handle it. The orchestra continues moving forward, excited for future members and the next generation of great musicians.
The small, but growing orchestra hosts auditions every October, but prospective students are encouraged to apply throughout the year. There is no limit on student applications and there is no charge for tuition. The program is free for students and their families. Chi-Chi says “too many people would be perfect”. If you (or your student) are in a grade between 7th and 12th, have an instrument, and possess a passion for music and a commitment to the craft, you too can soon find your own home away from home. “It’s never too late to pick up an instrument,” is what Chi-Chi would tell you.