Get a Life – November 18, 2005

By Claire Mazur

When I was a junior in high school, my biggest passion was Danny Meier. He was a senior and varsity soccer player, and I was a manager for the team. On days when he didn’t have practice or a game, he’d drive me back to my house, and we’d make out on my living room couch before my parents got home from work. Sunday evening I attended the Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestra (CYSO) fall concert at Orchestra Hall. The one thing that kept running through my brain—while watching this stage of high-school students producing music at such a strikingly professional level—was how passionate each and every one of them was about their instruments.

Forgive me while I wax sentimental for a moment; I don’t do it often, and I’ll probably never do it again. Watching these teenagers play such complex and difficult pieces with such confidence, ease, and dedication, I couldn’t help but feel jealous that I hadn’t had a similar experience in high school. While the majority of their peers are likely running around making out with their own Danny Meiers (who, like mine, will eventually break their hearts and leave them angry and resentful), these young adults are cultivating a skill and a passion that they will likely take with them through the greater part of their adult lives.

I’ve been to Orchestra Hall before to see the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (CSO) play, and anytime you sit in such a grand setting, listening to a live orchestra play classical music, it’s moving. But I found that watching the Youth Orchestra added something to the experience that left me so moved that I was still thinking about the performance long after I had left.

The quality of music they produced was so impressive, the focus on their faces was so apparent, that one couldn’t help but forget for a moment that some of the musicians were only 13 years old. But one glance at the percussionist (whose eyes were concealed by his shaggy blonde hair, which clearly hadn’t been cut since the start of summer) one was reminded that these aren’t just professionals. They’re prodigies.

Supporting youth art initiatives like the CYSO is one of the most important ways to give back to our community. These are the same kids who are going on to Juilliard and one day may revisit Orchestra Hall to play with the CSO. These are the same kids who will take the focus and dedication they’ve learned with their instrument and apply it to their studies—and eventually, their careers. They won’t be afraid to take on terrorism and global warming, because they’ll know what it means to face challenging obstacles and maintain the dedication and perseverance to move past them. These are the same kids who won’t have a chance to experiment with drugs and unsafe sex because there’s no time left to do so after the long hours of practice they put into their music every night.

At this point, my sentimental waxing appears to have reached a crescendo, so I should probably cease. But I do strongly urge you to take an opportunity to see the CYSO, if for no other reason than just to enjoy the beautiful music for free (or next to nothing). The CYSO holds concerts from September through May in various Chicago venues. Many of their concerts are free and open to the public, but some, like those held at Orchestra Hall, sell tickets ranging in price from $10-40. For a concert schedule and more information about the CYSO visit

Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestra

Address: 220 South Michigan Avenue

Phone: (312) 294-3333

Via CTA: Take the Red Line to Jackson or Green Line to Adams/Wabash. Walk east to 220 South Michigan Avenue.

Via car: From Lake Shore Drive, turn left on East Jackson Drive, then turn right onto South Michigan Avenue.