SALT LAKE CITY — For three decades, very determined young musicians and their leader have participated in a unique opportunity with the Utah Youth Orchestras.
The young musicians all attend different high schools from Logan to Utah County, Tooele to Vernal. And the remarkable thing is they rehearse together only once a week.
"I think they end up coming from 36 different high schools," said Barbara Scowcroft, the director and conductor.
For 30 years, Scowcroft, a first violinist with the Utah Symphony, has been at the helm. This is her vision, and she lovingly says these are her kids.
"They are some of the coolest people I know. They are some of the oldest and wisest souls that I know," Scowcroft said. "They put it through their 2016 mind, body, spirit, soul and it's new."
Scowcroft instills in them the confidence to play the classics.
"One of the best things about the philharmonic is the caliber of the musicians," said cello player Emma Fine, 18, from Ogden High School. "And the music is so amazing! When you're able to say you're playing Beethoven or Mozart, it's so cool! We learn about more than playing the notes, we learn about the lives of the composers."
John Myers, 17, from Skyline High School, plays the bassoon in the philharmonic and second violin in the Utah Youth Symphony.
"These people have a lot of the same interests as me, and it's just a lot of fun to meet these people from all over who are just very amazing," Myers said.
Scowcroft auditioned for the position in 1986 because she loves conducting and young people. She said she was pleased to get the gig, but then something happened.
"It was part way through the first rehearsal and I said to myself, 'Oh, Barbara Ann dear, this is not a gig.' This is a responsibility. It is a privilege. It is almost a holy responsibility. And I don't mean to overuse that word," she said.
Sometimes she conducts with huge, sweeping motions. Sometimes she crouches among her musicians. She is graceful and energetic. She is both a teacher and a cheerleader.
"You're dealing with these precious teenagers,” Scowcroft said. “You look askance, you could hurt them. You give them encouragement that they deserve and they will transform themselves.”
One of her former students, Mitchell Bodily, now assists Scowcroft as a mentor.
"It's been an amazing experience, and Barb has been instrumental in that," Bodily said. "Just to help share my passion for the music, to help them interpret it a little bit differently.”
He has loved returning and rehearsing with them again.
He served a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Ukraine and fell in love with the people and the culture. The piece they are performing by Dmitri Shostakovich really speaks to his heart.
“Shostakovich was writing during the height of the Soviet Union. He is known for his little insights, how he was doing his own part against the Soviet Union while still playing by party rules,” Bodily said. “Living over there adds lots of experiences. I've talked to a lot of people who lived during that time. So, that's what I kind of try to do as a mentor. I give them ideas and then let the music develop through them.”
Bodily will perform his senior recital with the Utah Symphony before he graduates from the University of Utah. In August, he will enter medical school.
The nearly 200 positions in both the Utah Youth Philharmonic and Symphony Orchestra come through auditions. Members learn of the orchestras by word of mouth or from music teachers.
Foster Dennin, a 16-year old from Judge Memorial Catholic High School, plays the cello. "Having the same kind of love and passion for music, it's a great community to be a part of," Foster said. "The music that we play is a challenge but it makes us grow and it's helped us become not only better musicians but better people."
Part of the joy of performing reaches a crescendo in some of Utah's great concert hall. John remembers his first time in Abravanel Hall.
"I first started going to concerts when I was around 7 or 8, and it's quite an experience to be on the other side, being on the stage instead,” he said. “It's something. I can hardly believe where I am sometimes."
For Scowcroft, it's about creating the atmosphere.
"For me, personally, I want this to be a refuge and a very safe place where they can come and put their lab coat on and really experiment. Even when they're exhausted after a week at school and they come here Friday afternoon, they still feel it and I still feel it. The spiritual awakening is because you are changed cellularly when you actually produce," Scowcroft said.
The Utah Youth Philharmonic performed at the Libby Gardner Hall at the University of Utah over the weekend.
The Utah Youth Symphony will perform in the Salt Lake Tabernacle on Saturday, Jan. 23 at 7:30 p.m. Admission is free and no tickets are required.