Though only 16, Audrey Shepherd is as poised and articulate as any 20-something. Her demeanor is that of a young professional; so is her skill as a principal bassoonist with the Sacramento Youth Symphony.
Shepherd’s talent has moved her along quickly, and so, she says, have the committed music instructors at her former middle school and now at El Camino High School, where she is a junior.
She says she is especially proud to be part of the Sacramento Youth Symphony, where she and her fellow musicians learn to play as an orchestra. “The repertory is incredible,” Shepherd says. “We’re playing the same music that adults play in professional orchestras.”
The Youth Symphony has been training and inspiring budding musicians like Shepherd since its founding in 1956 as a 55-member youth orchestra, then part of the Sacramento Symphony. When current artistic director Michael Neumann joined the Symphony as assistant conductor in 1979, the youth orchestra came as part of his role — a role that he relished.
Neumann was convinced that the youth orchestra could grow and thrive as an autonomous organization, and he convinced the board of directors to give the group its financial and artistic independence.
Newmann’s vision has paid off. Sacramento Youth Symphony now has 400 young musicians who play in several types of ensembles in accordance with their skills and experience.
The premier orchestra, which Neumann conducts, performs in several major concerts each year and travels abroad to perform and visit other young musicians.
Additional programs include an academic string orchestra, a wind ensemble, a summer chamber music workshop, and an after-school band for students in grades 4 through 6.
There is also a free after-school program at the Father Keith B. Kenny Elementary School in Oak Park. Called Overture, the program is a direct reflection of the board’s commitment to community involvement and its vision to “nourish every child in our communities with exposure to music.”
Overture is inspired by the Venezuelan El Sistema movement, which encourages social change and community participation through music. As they learn an instrument, students teach their parents to play, drawing the family together. Parents commit to the program by helping with snacks, performances and group activities.
In this and all of the Sacramento Youth Symphony’s activities, “We’re building positive values, like responsibility and accountability,” Neumann says
Shepherd will leave with those life lessons as well as determination to study at an outstanding university — one that has a “strong academic program and a top-notch music school with a bassoon professor.” Her ultimate goal is to play the bassoon with an orchestra like the San Francisco Symphony or the New York Philharmonic.
But, says Shepherd, another equally important goal is “to inspire other young people the way my music teachers and the Youth Symphony have inspired me.”