Students touring Canada with National Youth Orchestra

This summer, 92 musicians between the ages of 16 and 26 trained and performed with the prestigious National Youth Orchestra (NYO) of Canada, including eight UBC students and alumni.

The annual seven week long program has a competitive audition process, accepting just 90-100 of the finest young musicians from across the country. For the first five weeks, the musicians trained at the Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Ontario starting with smaller chamber music ensembles before progressing into larger orchestral works.

“The thing about that was it was awesome because all we did was rehearse and practice, and we didn’t have to think about anything else,” said Julia Chien, a recent UBC alumnus with a Bachelor of Music in Percussion Performance. “It was wake up, eat breakfast, rehearse, eat lunch, rehearse, eat dinner, rehearse, and then go and sleep and restart the next day.”

Following the intensive training phase, the program culminates in a two week Canada-wide tour showcasing their summers’ efforts.

John-Paul Radelet, a third year music student at UBC and violinist in the 2015 NYO, found out about the summer opportunity when he was 10, and first auditioned at the age of 14, unsuccessfully. During his first year as a part of the NYO this summer, touring with the orchestra one of Radelet’s most memorable experiences.

“It’s weird to think of musicians as a sports team but we all lived together for five weeks in residence and then ate all our meals together and went on a bus trip and planes and stuff together,” said Radelet. “So just going to venue to venue as a group was a cool experience.”

“My favourite part of touring was just being in these music halls that professional musicians play in,” said Lucas O’Fee, a UBC alumnus with a Bachelor of Music in Trombone Performance. “It was like being in a professional orchestra -- you'd just go in through the backstage entrance and set up your stuff in the dressing room where all the pros set up.”

Chien also found her experiences very close to the professional world.

“When the actual orchestral part started, our conductor, the maestro, didn’t come in until four days before we were on for our first concert,” said Chien. “[That was] way closer to the actual experience of going into a professional gig.”

This year, the National Youth Orchestra had eight performances in four provinces, including one here at UBC. For the eight UBC students in the program, their home concert hall at the Chan Centre was a special stop, although they were now playing among a different orchestra group.

Chien, Radelet and O’Fee were all members of the UBC Symphony Orchestra, another group of high calibre musicians based on campus. For Radelet, the NYO allowed him to focus all of his energy on his music, something that was not feasible while he was studying at UBC.

“The big difference is in something like NYO and any summer orchestral program, all you’re doing is focusing on your performance," said Radelet. “Whereas when you’re playing with the UBC symphony, you also have about six or seven other courses on top of it, so balancing things mentally is kind of challenging.”

On top of managing other coursework, being in the UBC Symphony Orchestra can come along with the added stress of ensuring one’s spot in the ensemble is maintained through regular rounds of auditions.

On the other hand, O’Fee found he had more opportunities to play major repertoire during his longer stay at UBC.

“UBC orchestra a couple years ago did Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring,” said O’Fee. “It just wouldn’t be feasible to take an ensemble like that on tour with the NYO, so the NYO had to do smaller works.”

O’Fee just entered his Masters program in Trombone Performance at Indiana University this fall, and hopes to become a professional trombonist.

“I’m hoping that the insane competition here [at UBC and the NYO] will help me really put in the effort I need to put in to take my playing to the next level.”