Youth orchestra gives life lessons and joy to community

Scott Turner Peninsula Youth Orchestra members practice at Peninsula High School for their final spring concert performance last month. Pictured are, from right, Elijah Brambila, Rosellen Berberich, Kellen Gonsalzes and Dara Hemphill. Photo by Scott Turner, KP News

A famous writer once said that music expresses things that cant be put into words, but also cant remain silent.

For 105 young people who play in the Peninsula Youth Orchestra, music is also a way to make friends, learn teamwork and have a whole lot of fun.

Eleven-year-old Andi Perrycook has been in PYO for three years. She plays violin in the orchestras Encore group with other intermediate level string players. “I really like being in PYO. It gives me a break from other things and its a way to make new friends and learn about how to cooperate together in an orchestra,” she said. “It makes me feel good to learn how to play a song –– like I really got something done.”

Trinity Bias, another Encore player, agreed.

My school doesnt have stringed instruments. It only has horns and stuff,” he said. “Being in an orchestra that has strings is pretty amazing because I love the violin and its fun to be in a group that has your same instrument and other people around that play strings too.

“If you live in the Gig Harbor area and you want to play a stringed instrument, you definitely should join PYO,” Trinity said.

That kind of positive attitude means much to Noelle Brambila, PYOs executive director. “We have kids who have never played an instrument before and kids whove been playing since they were 4 years old or younger,” Brambila said.

Noelle Brambila

By the end of their first season, the beginners are reading music and playing bass, viola, violin or cello, she added.

“Its an amazing opportunity for kids to learn to play music, learn to work with other kids and be in a creative environment with other kids,” said the Key Peninsula resident with a smile.

Brambilas two sons, ages 10 and 12 both play in the orchestra.

The orchestra was created in 1998 because the public school system doesnt offer any kind of training for stringed instruments, she said.

“Weve been a nonprofit from the start. Were trying to make music available to all children. Thats what were about. We dont want to turn away anybody. We want to create students who love music and an environment that feels like family,” she said.

PYO kids “really love to be here. They love to play and they walk away with potential for scholarships and teaching opportunities,”Brambila said. “And they are learning another language –– music is actually a language.”

Several former PYO students have gone on to be professional musicians or have teaching careers.

Often young people who have “graduated” from PYO come back to teach the younger kids, Brambila said.

Kristine Vander Poel is one of those PYO graduates. At 19, she now gives private violin lessons to current PYO kids.

“Playing in an orchestra is really good motivation, if you put your mind to it,” Vander Poel said.  

“It teaches you about motivation, about music, it helps you in school, it teaches you responsibility in practices and how to have friends and be in a group.

“Its such a good, firm education. Orchestra is just as good a way to build teamwork as sports are,” she said.

PYO takes a break during the summer and will start its fall session on Sept. 17.

Meanwhile, the orchestras “Rockin Strings” summer camp will take place Aug. 17-21 at Agnus Dei Lutheran Church in Gig Harbor. Kids play music from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m, Brambila said.

“The first time my kids went to music camp, I thought for sure they would be dead-bored playing their violin and cello all day. But they just love it,” she said.

The summer camp students will present a concert Aug. 21 at the Uptown Gig Harbor pavilion. PYO member Hudson Link will be the featured performer.

PYO always appreciates support from the community, Brambila said.

“This needs to be an organization thats open to everyone. It doesnt matter how much money the family makes, because this program cant be just for kids whose family can afford to buy them an instrument or give them private lessons. We offer scholarships so we want families to never say ‘no’ just because they think that money is going to be an issue,” she said.

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