One of the Youth Orchestras of San Antonio (YOSA) is going international, performing works in the cities where they were written. Last week, in a music hall on the University of Texas at San Antonio campus young people ages 14 to 18 were rehearsing for a tough performance tour to a highly revered place for music lovers.
Conductor Troy Peters stopped them abruptly. "So, there's a lot of rust right now you guys. And please remember that in like 6 days we're going to be in Prague in one of the most important concert halls in Europe, in front of a lot of people who've known this piece since they were little kids. So we have to be ready to play this thing in front of Czechs. People who know this music. Let's go all the way back to letter C please."
The orchestra begins again. The young musicians have been playing this music for months, but before today, they've had six weeks off. I sat down with Peters who said they're going to Budapest, Prague and one other very musical city.
"We're going to Vienna which is one of the most important cities in classical music and for our students to be able to walk the streets where Mozart, Haydn, Beethoven worked is beyond measure in its value. We're going to be in central Europe in places that have been a huge part of international news in the last year. And there's no better way to understand and learn about that than to be there and see it firsthand."
YOSA says it changes kids' lives through music and to Peters one of the ways to really change their lives means playing music on foreign shores.
"Tours happen every two years at YOSA. Two years ago we were in Quebec. Four years ago we were in England and Wales. Two years from now we'll be somewhere else that we'll start talking about soon."
But first they've got to get ready. And getting ready means repeating each piece and examining it in great detail. Peters again puts the brakes on to make a point.
"Stop! Bassoons, please carry the sharps all the way through the measure. And the A sharp of the downbeat is good on the second note of the triplet, okay? Don't leave out the A sharp later in the bar." Then he directed the orchestra where to start. "Before the letter E two beats..."
The orchestra begins again, but Peters quickly stops them, noting a mistake that he, not they, had made.
"I may have misspoken," he said as the kids laughed. "Two bars before letter E. I apologize!" And the music began again.
Aiden Alcocer plays French Horn with YOSA's Philharmonic and he says he thrives on the pressure.
"The pressure--it makes the music more in the moment. There's more things you can do with it when you're under pressure. Being in YOSA just makes your musicianship so much higher because you show up to orchestra rehearsal and you need to know the music or your conductor's going to get on you."
This is Alcocer's first foreign tour with YOSA and he’s excited.
"We're playing Dvorak's symphony in his home town. The Liszt Hungarian Rhapsody in his home town. It's going to be amazing"
David Irizarry is a four-year YOSA veteran and a multi-instrumentalist who says he enjoys playing them all.
"I had started on the violin when I was very, very little. But I kind of quit it to learn piano. But when I heard about YOSA I took up the viola and learned it real quick and was really anxious to play in the orchestra."
He also plays drums and guitar. Back at the practice, Peters hears something he wants to bring to students' attention, and he stops them.
"So, cellos--when we had this big tune at the beginning of the piece, you guys need to give us a little bit more richness in the crescendos. Bahm-pahm-pahm BAHM! I know, you're used to playing with like 19 cellos and now we have eight. So you've got to change the way you play; you're in a smaller orchestra now."
Seventeen-year-old Victoria Acuña has been making music with YOSA since she was quite young.
"I've been playing violin for about eight years now. Yeah, I grew up in YOSA!" she said and laughed.
While all the kids are looking forward to the trip, she has a special reason to.
"I actually turn 18 in Vienna, so I get to spend my birthday out in Europe, in one of the most beautiful cities in the world, and experiencing music, it's one of my favorite things to do, with all my friends and with YOSA too, and I think that's really exciting," Acuña says.
Back at the rehearsal Peters keeps pounding away to help them get it right.
"I see a crescendo in those repeated e-flats and I'm not hearing them." To help them understand, Peters sings the notes to them: "Yahm-Pahm-Pahm-Pahm-paww-neee!" He then urges them on. "Take us someplace; take us on a journey."
For the YOSA Philharmonic, that journey began early Monday morning when they flew to Prague on the first leg of their 10-day journey.
To follow YOSA's European tour go here.