AFTER SCHOOL Members of the orchestra at Sachem East High.

Suffolk Youth Orchestra Joins the Field

Published: November 27, 2008 at
By: Karin Lipson

EVERY Thursday, 14-year-old Christopher Beroes-Haigis, his mother and his cello spend more than two hours on the road between Sag Harbor, where they live, and a high school in Farmingville. When he gets back home it’s a school night the ninth grader heads straight to bed.

It’s “a bit of a drag,” he said of the long round trip, but “it’s worth it” to play with the recently formed MYO Suffolk Principal Orchestra, a youth ensemble for school-age performers that rehearses at Sachem High School East in Farmingville. “It’s the only opportunity I get to perform classical music,” said Christopher, whose high school has no symphony orchestra. And while he also loves to play rock Jimi Hendrix and Yo-Yo Ma share top billing as his favorite musicians the classical repertory “is like your vitamins in music.”

At a recent evening rehearsal, nearly 70 young orchestra members from 34 Suffolk communities assembled onstage at the Sachem High auditorium, which buzzed with teenage chatter. Then Phil Preddice, the conductor, stepped to the podium and quietly said, “ ‘Don Giovanni,’ please.”

The players, mostly high-school age, began the overture from the Mozart opera. Borodin and Rimsky-Korsakov followed, as they rehearsed for a concert that weekend. (The orchestra, which has four concerts this school year, will next perform in March at the Adelphi University Performing Arts Center.)

During intermission, Richard Liverano, 15, a trombonist from Centereach, praised the orchestra’s level of concentration. “Everybody’s focused, everybody loves to play,” he said.

Active since September, the symphony is the fifth instrumental group under the umbrella of the Metropolitan Youth Orchestra of New York, a Long Island-based nonprofit organization created (under a different name) in 1993. “There were 15 kids and a conductor,” said John McNeur, MYO’s founder and executive director. These days Mr. McNeur who won the Long Island Music Hall of Fame’s 2008 Music Educator of Note award — oversees the 500 members of MYO instrumental and vocal groups. (Their $450 annual participation fee, he said, covers about half the $300,000 budget, with the rest coming largely from ticket sales and donations; players who go on an optional two-week tour through Eastern Europe next summer will pay an additional $4,400.)

Mr. McNeur’s day job is director of music for the Herricks school district; rehearsals for all but the newest MYO orchestra are held at Herricks schools. In the past, he said, the Nassau County locations have been too far to be practical for some potential players and their chauffeuring parents — from Suffolk County. So early last spring Mr. McNeur set out to organize a Suffolk division. More than 100 musicians auditioned, of whom 80 were accepted and 70 joined; some openings remain.

There are at least three other performing groups on the Island outside the traditional school setting: the Long Island Youth Orchestra, in residence on the C. W. Post Campus of Long Island University in Brookville; and the Gemini and Peconic orchestras, which rehearse, respectively, in Melville and Southampton.

As might be expected, there has been some reshuffling since MYO Suffolk joined the playing field. “I think we may have lost 10 kids” to the new orchestra, said Richard Reiben, the board president of the Gemini Youth Orchestras. “But we’ve more than made them up,” he said, with new members.

For some especially determined young performers, more orchestras mean more chances to play. “The good thing is they’re on two separate days,” said Leah Stevens, 12, of East Islip, a flutist who plays with both the Gemini and MYO Suffolk ensembles.

Her brother, Michael, contents himself for now with playing the French horn with MYO Suffolk. But then Mikey, as he is called, is only 9 — the youngest member of a young orchestra.