Youngsters bringing passion for music to new, growing group
URBANA — Jack Reeder laughs at the idea of being called maestro — even though he conducts the new St. Pat's Youth Orchestra.
"I'm certainly not there yet," said Jack, who despite his protests seems confident, unruffled and mature beyond his 16 years when he's at the podium.
Plus, he and the orchestra's other co-founders — younger brother Matthew and friend Noah Larson, both 14 — want to create a friendly and informal atmosphere.
But they are serious about the music.
The three started the orchestra this past spring to give youths who share their passion for orchestral music a supportive and safe outlet for playing it.
The three teens run the orchestra and select the music, sticking to classical pieces in the public domain. Noah, Matthew and John D'Andria, who plays oboe, arrange the music for the group.
Jack's the principal conductor but has let Noah take the podium. Noah calls his friend the better conductor.
"He gives a steady beat, which is arguably the most important thing so the musicians don't get lost," Noah said. "I conducted one piece with this orchestra, but I'm not half as good."
The new orchestra is open to any musician in Grades 7-12. No auditions are required.
The group formed in March with 12 members and is now up to 35, among them a harpist and euphonium player. The members represent seven Champaign-Urbana schools.
Like its three founders, most of the young players also perform in their school ensembles and in other orchestras, among them the larger East Central Illinois Youth Orchestra, which auditions and is managed and conducted by adults, not youths.
The idea to start the St. Pat's Youth Orchestra came from Jack, Matthew and Noah having organized a "little orchestra" in the basement of the Reeder home in Champaign two years ago, mainly to play at Christmas parties.
"We did it for two years and in February decided to branch out and make it more accessible to students in the area," Jack said.
They started out rehearsing in the Reeders' basement but quickly outgrew the space. They asked for permission to rehearse and have concerts at St. Pat's Parish Center in Urbana.
The Reeders belong to that Catholic church, but only 20 percent or so of the other orchestra members do.
For example, Sophie Kim, who shares concertmaster duties, attends a Korean church. She would like to see the orchestra reach people outside St. Patrick's who aren't Catholic or even Christian.
The Rev. Joel Phelps, parochial vicar at St. Pat's, wouldn't mind that.
The 28-year-old priest, who was ordained last year, likes the idea of the orchestra so much he volunteered to join it.
The trombone-playing priest, who can't attend every rehearsal or every concert, said the ensemble helps its young players develop their gifts while giving glory to God.
Daniel Southerland, principal conductor and co-founder of the Urbana Pops Orchestra, spoke in more gritty terms about the new youth orchestra. Now 25, he co-founded the Urbana Pops when he was in his early 20s.
"It never would have occurred to me to do it when I was in high school," he said. "I'm really excited they're doing something that's taken a lot of initiative to make happen. Speaking from experience, building a group isn't easy."
Southerland, though, knows Jack and Noah and is not surprised. He believes it was just a matter of time before they "did something cool because they're both very bright" and "monstrously talented."
Noah, who lives in Monticello and is a sophomore at University Laboratory High School in Urbana, plays violin for St. Pat's Youth Orchestra — but he plays a variety of other instruments.
He composes music and attends the University of Illinois School of Music Academy, a pre-college chamber music program for advanced players.
Primarily a vocalist, Jack has had extensive experience in youth theater productions and sings with the Central Illinois Children's Chorus Youth Chorale and Baroque Artists of Champaign-Urbana.
He also is the student conductor of Expressions, the top choir at Centennial High School, where he is an incoming junior, as is Sophie, also 16.
And his brother, Matthew, plays flute with the East Central Illinois Youth Orchestra and the orchestra at Uni, where he is a freshman.
To learn how to conduct, Jack reads and observes and has found mentors in the community, among them Southerland.
Jack rehearses the St. Pat's Youth Orchestra twice a week, 90 minutes at a time. He seems to know what he's doing and at the end of a recent rehearsal exhorted his players to get the word out on Facebook about the orchestra and its upcoming concert.
So far, it has played two "official" concerts, including one last week, as well as at an Easter Mass and a fish fry at St. Pat's. The next concert is expected to be scheduled for around Halloween.
At the recent concert, the orchestra presented a 45-minute program of music by Ludwig van Beethoven, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Giacomo Puccini, George Frideric Handel, Johann Pachelbel and Jules Massenet.
Mardia Bishop, the Reeders' mother, is among a few parents who help with the orchestra, mainly by doing publicity and providing snacks during rehearsals and concerts.
Besides making music, the new ensemble gives youths a healthy social environment and a chance to meet students from different schools, she said.
Observing a recent rehearsal, Bishop said the young players are extremely dedicated and attentive.
"They're ready to go and so kind to each other and supportive of each other."
Jack hopes the orchestra continues on the path it's taken and that it grows as an ensemble.
"I think the most beautiful music is made when everyone's making it," he said.
Care to join them?
The St. Pat's Youth Orchestra rehearses from 1 to 2:30 p.m. Mondays and Fridays this summer at St. Patrick Parish Center, 708 W. Main St., U. If you are interested in joining, stop by or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.