, ,

Green Bay orchestra performance to share classical music with the next generation

Civic Symphony of Green Bay set for Friday concert at St. Norbert College

Violinists are seen sitting in a line.
Musicians practice with the Civic Symphony of Green Bay on Thursday, Feb. 8, 2024, in Ashwaubenon, Wis. Angela Major/WPR

Lydia Hanold was nervous about her solo.

The sophomore is a violinist at Green Bay East High School. On a recent Thursday evening, she was in the band room of Ashwaubenon High School, rehearsing “Romanian Folk Dances” by Hungarian composer Béla Bartók. It will be part of the Civic Symphony of Green Bay’s upcoming performance.

Hanold admitted that being one of the youngest performers alongside the orchestra has been a little nerve-wracking.

Stay informed on the latest news

Sign up for WPR’s email newsletter.

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

“It feels really scary, because I’m not used to performing with older people. I’ve played in groups, but it was always (similarly) age ranged,” she said. “But it’s also pretty cool because it’s different experiences, different people.”

Providing young musicians the opportunity to step outside their comfort zone is one of the goals of “Musician’s Journey: Beginner to Adult,” which the Civic Symphony will perform Friday at St. Norbert College’s Walter Theater. The performance will showcase how musicians’ talents can develop over time and feature a 65-person orchestra of varying ages and skill levels.

Elementary school-aged kids from the Suzuki Music Academy of Green Bay will play “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.” As the music becomes more complex, the orchestra will be joined by students from De Pere Middle School, Green Bay East and St. Norbert College. In total, more than 160 musicians will come together for the performance.

It’s part of an initiative aimed at introducing classical music to a new generation. And it comes as classical music is becoming more popular with young audiences. A survey of 2,071 people published by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in December found the percentage of people under 25 interested in learning more about orchestral music rose from 6 percent in 2022 to 17 percent last year.

Two violinists concentrate on their playing during practice.
Green Bay East High School student Lydia Hanold, right, practices with the Civic Symphony of Green Bay on Thursday, Feb. 8, 2024, in Ashwaubenon, Wis. Angela Major/WPR

The Civic Symphony is now celebrating its 29th season.

Artistic Director Seong-Kyung Graham has been with the group for 19 seasons. She said the people in the orchestra are what bring her back year after year. 

“We have so many wonderful people,” Graham said. “They may not be professional musicians, but they are very devoted and love playing music.”

Graham said she tries to make each concert unique, which is why this month’s performance focuses on educational outreach.

“I wanted the Civic Symphony to be really integrated in the community — not just a stand-alone group,” Graham said. “We can teach our students, our children, to see where it’s going. And they can see the goal: ‘OK, I can see myself playing in the adult group, like a civic symphony.’”

A director smiles and gestures as she stands in front of the group of musicians.
Civic Symphony of Green Bay artistic director Seong-Kyung Graham leads practice Thursday, Feb. 8, 2024, in Ashwaubenon, Wis. Angela Major/WPR

In addition to the concert Friday night, the group will also play two abbreviated performances in front of local school children. Nearly 1,200 students, teachers and chaperones are registered for those events.

“We want it to be entertaining, but also educational,” Graham said. “I want to show the children that they can pick up an instrument, and if they work hard, they can even play in an orchestra when they grow up and graduate.”

Concert comes amid growing global interest in classical music

Green Bay East junior Tyler Dashnier said he developed a passion for classical music in middle school. He’s looking forward to sharing that passion with younger students.

“I think it’s very important to keep with the new generation because it’s a very artistic way of expressing oneself,” said Dashnier, who plays the cello for the orchestra.

Two musicians play the cello during practice.
Green Bay East High School student Tyler Dashnier, left, looks up at the director during practice Thursday, Feb. 8, 2024, in Ashwaubenon, Wis. Angela Major/WPR

There’s evidence that this form of artistic expression is gaining ground with young people across the globe, according to a 2020 study by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, French streaming service Deezer, and the British Phonographic Industry.

The study found that between April 2019 and the same month of 2020, Deezer saw a 17 percent rise in classical music listeners worldwide. During that period, almost a third of the service’s classical music listeners in the UK were under the age of 35.

Green Bay East Orchestra Director Joseph Baltus said there’s a variety of benefits that can come from classical music.

“Namely, it’s so fun,” he said. “It really changes how you feel about things. When you hear it and you’re doing something else, it enhances things around you.”

Baltus said he’s especially thrilled to see his students perform with the Civic Symphony and have the opportunity to share a timeless genre of music with the community.

“A performance like this, to rehearse with skilled musicians in the community, it’s an awesome opportunity for these kids,” he said.

A close up of a violinist looking down at the strings of her instrument.
A musician practices with the Civic Symphony of Green Bay on Thursday, Feb. 8, 2024, in Ashwaubenon, Wis. Angela Major/WPR

St. Norbert College cellist Simon Whiteley is especially passionate about sharing his love of classical music with future generations. He plans to be a music educator after college.

He said much of the music we hear today and that the kids in the audience will hear in the performances has roots dating back hundreds of years.

“This is something that doesn’t stop evolving, and that can tell a lot,” Whiteley said. “It also, I think, is the easiest way to kind of cross cultural boundaries and speak a … ‘universal language’ that once you learn it, you can communicate with anybody.”

A musician plays the cello while sitting with other musicians in practice.
St. Norbert College student Simon Whiteley plays during the symphony’s practice Thursday, Feb. 8, 2024, in Ashwaubenon, Wis. Angela Major/WPR

In fact, Whitely is so passionate about the genre that he could listen to it for literal days.

“I get made fun of by close family members, as well as friends,” he joked. “I have this playlist on Spotify that’s about 48 hours straight of just classical music that I’ve gathered.”

Whiteley hopes that passion serves him well as an educator, though he worries about funding challenges some music education programs face. Even so, he’s excited for the opportunity to turn a hobby into a career.

“How does that not sound like an amazing experience?” Whiteley said.

In the meantime, he’s looking forward to sharing his passion with the community during Friday’s concert. For more information on the performance, visit gbcivic.org/events-concerts.