The Fort Worth Youth Orchestra will soon celebrate its 50th year as an outlet for local musicians to hone their musical skills in an orchestra setting.
For Germán Gutiérrez, his job as music director and conductor for the orchestra is not just a profession. It’s his passion.
“The joy that I get after a good concert with the Youth Orchestra is unique,” Gutiérrez said in a telephone interview. “They are young, talented students that are so hungry for knowledge. With the students, I have to do everything from scratch, you know, to start teaching them not only the notes, but the piece, about the composer, the style…it’s very hard work, but it’s rewarding.”
Founded in 1965, the organization currently involves more than 250 musicians between the ages of four and 19. The organization rehearses in the 109 in Orchestra Hall at 4401 Trail Lake Drive and has performed internationally.
“’To educate and inspire young musicians to pursue excellence through orchestral performance is our goal,” Gutiérrez said in a statement on the Fort Worth Youth Orchestra website. “That is what we do. We believe that a generous and passionate commitment to music among fellow young musicians will deepen the sensitivity, understanding and intelligence of our students for the arts while opening their eyes to the world.”
Orchestra students are divided into four main orchestral groups based on experience level and instrument played. Groups include the Junior String Orchestra, the String Orchestra, the Philharmonic Orchestra and the Youth Orchestra.
Gutiérrez has directed the senior-level Youth Orchestra, since 2000.
Maegen McKey, 17, and Adam Phan, 16, are both in their fifth year with the group.
McKey and Phan have played instruments since they were children and know the meaning of discipline when it comes to mastering their instrument, they said. In addition to weekly orchestra practices and involvement in smaller chamber music groups, the students practice about six hours a day.
Phan said the benefits of his involvement in the Youth Orchestra extend beyond just learning to master an instrument.
“I think I’ve learned how to work with others a lot more from the Youth Orchestra- working with other musicians to make one big whole,” he said.
Both students expressed admiration for Gutiérrez.
According to his biography, Gutiérrez came to the United States to continue his education in conducting after studying music in his native Colombia. He earned a Master in Music degree at Illinois State University and a Doctorate of Arts degree at the University of Northern Colorado before coming to Fort Worth and accepting a conducting position at TCU.
A few years after moving to the area, Gutiérrez began working with the Fort Worth Youth Orchestra in 1996. He said although he enjoys conducting professional orchestras, his time spent mentoring youths in the Fort Worth Youth Orchestra has revealed his true passion for teaching.
McKey and Phan are planning to pursue music in the future.
“Both of us want to do orchestra music and symphony music,” Phan said.
Gutiérrez said another way that young musicians’ education is enriched by involvement in the orchestra is through its dedication to providing students an international tour. When financially possible, the organization tries to offer students international exposure once every three years.
In June, Gutiérrez will travel with a group from the orchestra to Italy to perform while learning both music and culture.
Phan plans to go on the summer trip.
“I’m excited to spend time with all of the orchestra kids because a lot of my good friends are going, so I’m ready to just really bond with them,” he said.
When Gutiérrez is not conducting the Youth Orchestra, he is busy teaching at TCU and conducting professional orchestras from a variety of locations around the world.
“I think I’m a teacher first, then a conductor,” he said. “I just love to work with the students- to see them grow from a very early age.”
Gutiérrez said in a telephone interview that he believes music is an activity that complements any study.
“If you look at the statistics, the most brilliant students at Harvard law, or in medicine, or scientists, all of these people had music in their lives at some point… It has been proven scientifically that music helps to unlock the level of understanding in a young mind,” he said on the website. “I recommend music for every human being.”