For the last two weeks, I have had the privilege of working at summer camps with one of the most important (in my opinion. :D) youth orchestras in Central Florida, the Metropolitan Area Youth Symphony, or MAYS for short. MAYS was created in 2010 after the passing of Jonathan May, a prominent music educator and amazing cellist from a brain aneurysm. His loss brought together some of the greatest minds in the music education and performance realms in central Florida, to create a foundation in his name, as well as two youth orchestras. One serves Orlando, the other serves the Leesburg area.
I began orchestral work with the Central Florida Youth Orchestra, or CFYO, under Mr. May’s baton at their summer camps, held in Leesburg for 2 weeks over the summer. I started in either 2006 or 2007, I can’t exactly remember when, but it’s been quite a long time. His corny jokes and overall endearing nature really attracted me to working with him as well as the other people involved with the orchestra.
It was a youth orchestra, yes, but something was definitely different. No matter how many times you messed up a passage, or even if you played something completely out of tune, there was no yelling, there was no making fun, there were no smirks. Only jovial laughter and a simple, “well that reminds me of this one time…” and he’d trail off into a story about some random great cellist or brass player who did exactly the same thing. So many youth orchestras nowadays are all about being good. While being good is a portion of being in a youth orchestra, the experience of being in a group of like-minded and supportive people is amazing. Many performers often forget what it was like to be a beginner, and what it was like to have to sit through many performances of amazing players, only to think you could never be like them. I still have those moments where I want to just throw my bassoon away and call it a day. To have someone tell a five-year-old, “you can do that too, just work hard and it will reward you,” really probably doesn’t go very far. To actually sit down one on one at a camp of about 40 or so kids and give them advice and help them with hand position or embouchure makes all the difference.
I’ve been to many concerts where young people have played, but there is something about watching the 11 year old get up with his violin and give a very serious speech about how the song he is going to play is The Imperial March and how hard it is, and then give a performance of squeaky pitches that do sound like the theme to said song, that is just hilarious as well as impressive and encouraging. The look of concentration on an 11 year old’s face is a bit comical, but the sheer happiness of having given a performance of a favorite tune to a group of older, more experienced kids and adults and not being criticized makes them feel as if they’ve just played the most difficult concerto for the Queen of England.
I saw this happen more than once at these camps. My personal favorite was a group of young kids who had only been playing their violins for 4 or 5 days. While bowing their open strings, bouncing up and down, looking all around as two councilors played along with them, their concentration looked to be anywhere other than on the music. However, their performance was nearly flawless, and their grins and adorable bows when they finished was the best reward any teaching staff could receive.
These camps remind me of what Mr. May’s entire life was dedicated to, and several people at these camps definitely reminded me of him a little.
He was definitely watching over these camps, and I’m so glad I got to know him.
We miss you, Mr. May.