Sunday, August 30 , 2015, 6:30 am | Fair 71.0º




Santa Barbara Symphony Fetes Its Volunteers at Recognition Reception

The afternoon celebration features the musical stylings of members of the organization's Youth Symphony

From left, honorary board member Marilynn Sullivan, principal keyboardist Natasha Kislenko, board member Patricia Gregory and board president Paksy Plackis-Cheng at the Santa Barbara Symphony’s volunteer recognition reception at the La Cumbre Country Club.

From left, honorary board member Marilynn Sullivan, principal keyboardist Natasha Kislenko, board member Patricia Gregory and board president Paksy Plackis-Cheng at the Santa Barbara Symphony’s volunteer recognition reception at the La Cumbre Country Club.  (Melissa Walker / Noozhawk photo)

By Melissa Walker, Noozhawk iSociety Columnist | @NoozhawkSociety |

[Click here for a Noozhawk photo gallery from the event.]

Santa Barbara Symphony board members, staff and Youth Symphony musicians paid tribute to Santa Barbara Symphony volunteers at a private recognition reception with more than 100 guests sharing a delightful afternoon of celebration at the La Cumbre Country Club.

“I think it is very important to thank the Santa Barbara Symphony volunteers because this is, in part, how we have been able to grow and have taken the symphony to the next level,” board president Paksy Plackis-Cheng said.

Due to the efforts of hundreds of volunteers, the symphony continues to flourish with style and grace, offering a variety of orchestral performances each season and featuring an award-winning lineup of talented musicians for more than 61 years.

“What’s really special is that we have all these different groups that come together as a team and we make all this happen,” Plackis-Cheng said. “And from our music education programs all the way up to our normal concertgoers, we are impacting 26,000 people every season.”

In an effort to integrate youths into the history and culture of classical music and develop new talent and younger audiences, the organization offers seven educational outreach programs, including Junior Strings, String Workshop and the Music Van mobile classroom, designed to help children learn and play percussion instruments.

“We reach out to third-graders in over 50 schools in the community all the way up to high school students who participate in the Santa Barbara Youth Symphony — two of them are performing for us today,” Plackis-Cheng said.

Midway through the reception, guests were given a glimpse of the blooming talent from Santa Barbara Youth Symphony members, as Kimberly Almcrantz, 16, on violin, and Meredith Urschel, 16, on cello, wowed the roomful of onlookers as they performed a classical piece by J.S. Bach Arioso from Cantata #156.

Urschel, who started playing cello when she was just 8 years old and is currently a junior at Dos Pueblos High School, said she heard about the Youth Symphony from her music instructor, who encouraged her to join during her freshman year. She is now in her third year with the program.

“Being in the program has helped me grow more confident as a person, and performing in front of people over the years has helped me appreciate how I can influence other teenagers and help them decide what they want to be,” Urschel said. “I can now use my musical influence on them, recommend it and tell them how great it is.”

The Santa Barbara Youth Symphony is an orchestra of 65 to 70 musicians ages 12 to 18 from school districts in Santa Barbara and Ventura counties.

Competition to be chosen in the program is very competitive, with hundreds of students applying each year, but only handful of musicians make the final cut. Youth Symphony members are selected by audition, and no student is refused entry because of finances.

The students rehearse weekly on Sunday evenings during the school year.

“The biggest things that we instill, and that is at the heart of everything we do, is community,” said Amy Basset, director of education and community engagement. “We reach out to over 4,500 students throughout Santa Barbara County that come together through either our Junior Strings, Youth Symphony, our Music Van or Concert for Young People.

“The girls who played here today are friends and are also members of our string program. Everyone in our programs are friends who come together to play.”

Keeping in tune with the community, the Youth Symphony will be performing a free community concert open to the public at 3 p.m. this Saturday at First Presbyterian Church of Santa Barbara, 21 E. Constance Ave.

Almcrantz, who was a fourth-grader when she joined the String Workshop and is now a senior violist with the Youth Symphony, told Noozhawk that she is looking forward to performing along with her younger peers at the community concert in March.

“It’s nice to know that what I’m doing is affecting the lives of other younger people who may not be inspired to play until they see someone older doing it, and be like, hey I can do that, too,” she said.

Noozhawk iSociety columnist Melissa Walker can be reached at [email protected]. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkSociety, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Become a fan of Noozhawk on Facebook.




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