Portland, OR. In the midst of a global pandemic, the Portland Youth Philharmonic is finding new ways to connect musicians with each other as well as the community at large. Following the cancellation of its 96th concert season, musicians and directors have replaced in-person practices, concerts and lectures with Zoom calls, YouTube videos and Facebook live streams.

As the PYP continues to adapt to COVID-related changes, the public can engage with the nonprofit via Facebook and YouTube, where PYP posts live streams and a series of video talks entitled “Conversations with the Conductor.” Young musicians interested in joining the PYP may submit virtual auditions in preparation for next year’s season. You can see an example below:

Society Page interviewed four young musicians and composers — 14-year-old violinist Francie Lenhart, 11-year-old double bassist Rowan Lenhart, 13-year-old violinist Haruka Sakiyama, and 15-year-old violinist Koharu Sakiyama — to learn their perspectives on the changes they have had to make. 

In general, these musicians find virtual practices challenging. “You don’t actually get to hear your teachers or your actual sounds,” Haruka Sakiyama, explains. The musicians also point to technical glitches as a major setback: Rowan explains that the audio sometimes takes on a metallic quality or sounds as if the teacher is underwater.

Nevertheless, the musicians offer positives to the situation, all while keeping their good humor. “We don’t have to do the long car ride to practice,” says violinist Francie Lenhart, laughing. Haruka cites increased family time as a positive, while Koharu states: “In some ways, things are less chaotic. We have more time to just concentrate on practicing.”

From the Portland Youth Philharmonic’s website: In 1924, a group of visionary citizens established the Portland Junior Symphony Association (later renamed the Portland Youth Philharmonic Association or PYP for short). Building on the pioneering work of Mary V. Dodge, whose Irvington School Orchestra was the nucleus of the first Junior Symphony, the Association engaged Russian émigré Jacques Gershkovitch as conductor. PYP is the oldest youth orchestra in the United States. The structure and standards that it established for training young musicians in the 1920s became the prototype for youth orchestras across the country.

Over the years, thousands of young musicians have played in one or more of PYP’s ensembles. Some have gone on to professional careers in orchestras across the country, including the New York Philharmonic, the Boston Symphony, the National Symphony, the St. Louis Symphony, the Oregon Symphony, as well as Juilliard and American String Quartets. Others have achieved great success in teaching music or exploring non-musical fields, while continuing to be accomplished amateur musicians and active supporters of the arts in their communities. Alumni often attribute much of their success in life to the discipline and teamwork they experienced as members of the Portland Youth Philharmonic.