On March 6, The Venice Symphony Youth Orchestra Symphonic Strings ensemble was rehearsing at Building 42, behind the Venice Performing Arts Center at Venice High School, practicing for their big concert in April.

They had no idea that it would be their last weekly rehearsal and that their annual spring concert would be canceled.

As months added up, Donna Smith, director of the symphony’s youth orchestra, was determined to get her kids back together. She worked with The symphony’s Director of Education Tim Ferguson, to develop a plan where the young musicians could play together while maintaining social distancing and safety.

The youth orchestra already had a relationship with Lake Lutheran Church. Smith is the church’s former music director and the VSYO has presented concerts there. Smith zeroed in on the long, sheltered breezeway that would allow the students to perform at a safe distance from each other in an outdoor setting.

The rehearsal was optional, and several students did not participate or were encouraged to stay home due to family health concerns. The seven who did show up to play included one recent VSYO graduate. All wore masks as they secured a spot along the breezeway.

Jenna King, 14, plays violin in the VSYO, and studies dance and chorus.

“This is her first in-person event in months,” her mother, Donna Hogue said. “Donna is so dedicated to pull this together for the kids.”

Amy and Dean D’Angelo brought folding chairs to watch their son Anthony, 14, perform with his friends for the first time in more than three months.

“He’s very excited,” Amy D’Angelo said. “He missed it terribly.”

Smith led the students through a program including music from Bizet’s “Carmen,” Mozart and music from the “Pirates of the Caribbean.” A light cross breeze provided relief from the heat, as did a quick summer rain shower. Occasionally the outdoor air conditioner would kick in a bit loudly. Still throughout the hour-long practice, nobody complained about the heat or masks, or the unusual staging.

“I felt much more motivated,” said Diana Labrador. “It was so fun to play with everybody. It’s better than playing alone.”

Christine Kasten, President/CEO of The Venice Symphony, watched the rehearsal from a bench in the shade.

“It is inspiring to watch these young musicians out here practicing,” Kasten said. “There’s definitely a feeling of celebration that comes with rejoining their peers. I know they were really looking forward to playing together again.

“This is a learning curve, but it went better than I expected,” Smith, the youth symphony’s director said. “I really liked seeing the kids.”

There are no public performances scheduled for the near future and no plans yet for the younger students in the VSYO Concert Strings ensemble, led by Nicole Rawley, to resume rehearsals. But Smith and her students agreed that despite the masks and the summer heat and the unusual setting, that playing together was better than rehearsing alone at home.

“They are missing each other, so this is great,” said Dianelys Labrador as she helped her daughter pack up. But she added with a smile, “Maybe bikinis next time.”

The Venice Symphony Youth Orchestra is open to all students, 8 to 18, who play a stringed instrument and can read music. Auditions are currently being held online.

For more information, visit thevenicesymphony.org or email VSYO@thevenicesymphony.org

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