Colleen McCracken broke her foot the summer before fourth grade and couldn’t swim competitively. Instead of letting her sit at home bored, her parents enrolled her in flute lessons. Little did they know she would one day perform with the St. Louis Symphony Youth Orchestra (SLSYO).
McCracken, a senior, and junior Leah Johnson, who plays the bass, both joined the SLYSO after making it through “a very selective audition process,” according to EHS orchestra teacher Victoria Voumard.
Johnson began playing the violin in fourth grade and switched to bass when she was 13. She participates in symphonic and concert orchestra at EHS.
“[Johnson] has a leadership role in both classes,” Ms. Voumard said. “She’s well prepared on her music and I can trust her to lead the section.”
Johnson and McCracken both take private lessons outside of school and practice daily. McCracken has even brought her flute along on a Girl Scout trip Michigan to prepare for an audition.
“I’d get up at 6 a.m. and I’d go outside and practice,” said McCracken.
The SLSYO provides many opportunities for members to work with professional symphony musicians including Gemma New, a conductor. These opportunities are a large part of why McCracken and Johnson decided to audition.
“[New is] traveling all over conducting,” McCracken said. “Everyone loves her. She’s an up-and-coming star of the conducting world, so it’s really exciting.”
According to the SLSYO website, students range in age from 12 to 22 and “represent more than 40 schools throughout the bi-state region.”
“It’s a pretty big range of people that participate in that group and they travel from all over,” said Ms. Voumard.
This year is the Youth Orchestra’s 50th anniversary, and in addition to its three annual concerts, the orchestra will be performing on the NPR radio show From the Top.
McCracken is most excited to play Festive Overture at the first concert.
“It’s such a beautiful piece of music,” McCracken said.
McCracken is planning on studying music in college. Although Johnson does not plan to pursue music full time, she hopes to continue playing after high school.
During her time playing the violin and then bass, Johnson has learned to step out of her comfort zone and try new things.
“If you have the slightest interest or curiosity about something, don’t hesitate to test it out,” Johnson said, “because you never know where it could lead you. I would’ve never thought I would be here today, and if I didn’t try the bass, I wouldn’t have this amazing opportunity!”