Surrey Youth Orchestras is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year. This now flourishing and successful society for orchestral music training has had a lot of challenges over those 40 years, and at one time it nearly disbanded with low membership and lack of interest in getting proper funding. Thank you to the dedicated parents and conductors who nursed the orchestras along through the good times and the not-so-good. The Surrey Symphony Society, the organization that runs the SYO, is truly a treasure.
You don’t get to be 40 without planning some super celebration, and founder Lucille Lewis is putting together a special performance featuring alumni from the orchestra. The new Alumni Orchestra will perform “Marche Slave, Op. 31,” by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, at its Spring Concert on Sunday, May 15 at Chandos Pattison Auditorium, under Lewis’ baton.
Karen Pledger, SYO’s new GM, is contacting as many alumni as possible to take part in this musical adventure.
“It will be a wonderful opportunity to connect with friends and share stories of your experience as part of the youth orchestra,” Pledger says.
Email her at email@example.com with your interest. And yes, there will be rehearsals, starting April 16 at Surrey Christian School (15353 92nd Ave.).
And what stories some of these young people have. Some of the alumni musicians have already shared their stories with Karen, and she passed them on to me. And now I share them with you. They are inspiring, amazing and interesting.
Let’s start with Cheng Wei Tony Yang (pictured).
“Music has always been a big part of my life,” he says. “My younger brother Jack and I started learning how to play the piano and the violin when we were about four years old. In 1995, my family decided to move to Canada from Taiwan. Naturally, we wanted to continue our music lessons, but my parents had a hard time finding good piano and violin teachers. One day, my mom learned about the Surrey Symphony Society, and she thought it would be a great experience for us. So, we applied and we were invited to play for Mrs. Lucille Lewis. Jack was accepted into the Intermediate Strings, and I was accepted into the Youth Orchestra.”
Tony admits that his English was not so good, and did struggle to fit in at school. But then there were the Saturday orchestra rehearsals.
“There’s something magical about playing with the orchestra and making music together,” he says. “I was making new friends, and music was our universal language.”
Tony eventually became Concert Master of the orchestra, and earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Physics and Life Sciences, and he is currently pursuing a PhD degree in Chemical and Biological Engineering at UBC.
In his “free” time, Tony has been an active volunteer in the community, including the Youth Arts Council of Surrey. He had a vision to create a city-wide talent show featuring youth of Surrey. It is called Surrey Shines.
“I sincerely thank Mrs. Lewis and the Surrey Youth Orchestra for all of the wonderful experiences,” he adds.
Jessica Kim was a cellist in the SYO for eight consecutive years. She calls it “one of the top youth orchestras in B.C., and my orchestral training there really enhanced my skills as a musician.” She is currently a fourth-year Health Sciences student at Simon Fraser University and founder and executive director of the Surrey-based Musician Impact Network Society, which gives free music performances at residential care facilities.
Margaret Chapman, currently living in Halifax, was a member of the orchestra in the 1980s. Since then, she has played with various orchestras in Canada and abroad. While living in the U.K., she played for many years with the Cambridge University Musical Society’s symphony orchestra, and had the honour of playing in Ely Cathedral, Coventry Cathedral, King’s College Chapel and Royal Albert Hall. Now back in Canada, she regularly performs with Nova Sinfonia in Halifax, as well as the PEI Symphony and various small chamber groups.
Idara Aguinaga was another Concert Master for the SYO: “The learning experience I had with the group propelled me in future orchestral playing with orchestras such as the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra as well as conducting. I went on to become conductor for the Richmond Youth Orchestra as well as a violin teacher in Surrey.”
Shima Takeda is a freelance violinist who currently lives and works in Victoria. Born and raised in Surrey, Shima began violin lessons with Lewis at the age of four, and piano lessons at the age of 10. She obtained a degree in music and has been active in the professional music community in and around Victoria.
Some of the stories are longer, but they all tell the same thing: Music makes life better, and the young people who have had the opportunity to be part of the orchestra are shining examples. Most of them found friends as well as a shared love of music. They worked and performed together. Now they are scattered around the world, still making music and still enhancing their communities. It all started in Surrey.
Happy 40th, Surrey Symphony Society.