Some travel a few blocks and others, hundreds of miles to attend weekly rehearsals every Saturday and Wednesday at Orchestra Hall in midtown Detroit. The youngest is 7 and the eldest, masters level in university. They give dozens of performances a year.
These are the 500 classical and jazz musicians who have auditioned and won a spot in one or more of the Civic Youth Ensembles. Sponsored by the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, the CYE has six classical orchestras for different levels of musicianship, and a jazz program that includes one jazz orchestra, two jazz bands and several jazz combos. In addition, 250 beginning musicians take part in classes that prepare them to move up into the orchestras and bands. It is the largest, most active program of its kind in the United States.
Detroit is a funny place. Its struggles are known worldwide, but its treasures are often hidden, even from locals. I lived in the Detroit area 45 years before discovering this music program that celebrated its 40th anniversary in April 2010.
In November 2010, my favorite classical and jazz radio station announced an upcoming concert at Orchestra Hall featuring the Civic Youth Ensembles. I decided to go. What I saw and heard that night sent me away with a passionate longing to do a photo project on the CYE and its young musicians. After two months of patient persistence, I got the go-ahead. On January 15, I attended my first 9-hour day of rehearsals.
For the next four months I took thousands of photos, recorded hours of audio interviews and listened to the most sublime music imaginable. It was their music and youth that drew me in. It is their passion and dedication that holds me captive, even today.
To learn more about the Civic Youth Ensembles, go to their website: http://www.dso.org/civic