Aidan Coleman was 7 years old and a student at Woods Elementary when his music teacher discovered he had perfect pitch.
“His teacher moved his chair back at Fresno State and it made a squeak, and Aidan said, ‘G’,’ ” — the note the squeak made — explained Aidan’s mother, Kimberly Coleman. “So the teacher went over to the piano and played a note and Aidan told him what it was.”
Perfect pitch, also known as absolute pitch, is a rare ability of a person to identify or re-create a given musical note without the benefit of a reference tone.
The discovery of Aidan’s ability solidified his goal: one day he will play violin professionally in an orchestra, he said.
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Aidan, now a 14-year-old freshman at University High School, is gaining experience in his craft through Youth Orchestras of Fresno (YOOF), a nonprofit ensemble serving 260 young players from seven Central California counties.
YOOF will perform alongside Youth Orchestra Los Angeles (YOLA), a youth ensemble that performed at the Super Bowl halftime last year, in a free concert Oct. 28 at the William Saroyan Theatre in Fresno.
“This is not a regular Youth Orchestras of Fresno concert,” said YOOF executive director Julia Copeland. “The primary focus ... is not on individual virtuosity, but on the power of teamwork.”
Copeland wants to use this concert as a launch pad for future musical instruction and youth development in our area.
“The reason we are hosting this amazing group from Los Angeles is that they represent a kind of music-for-social-justice effort that we would like to replicate in the Central Valley,” Copeland said. “We really want to reach everyone in the Central Valley who has any interest in in the future of this region ... Let’s start planning!”
YOLA is the flagship ensemble of a bold project by the Los Angeles Philharmonic to create youth orchestras in underserved neighborhoods throughout the LA area. The project is inspired by Venezuela’s El Sistema, the program that famously produced superstar conductor — and Los Angeles Philharmonic music director — Gustavo Dudamel.
“This project in Los Angeles shows that music training changes lives — in serious, positive, permanent ways,” Copeland said. “It turns out that playing a musical instrument offers social and academic advantages that no other experiences, in or out of school, can match.”
This YOLA performance is part of a 10th anniversary California tour that will culminate in a performance in San Francisco with Dudamel himself conducting. The performance in Fresno will be conducted by YOLA conductor Juan Felipe Molano, who previously conducted the Colombian Youth Philharmonic and Batuta Colombian System of Youth Orchestras (El Sistema – Colombia) as the national director of orchestras.
Dr. Thomas Loewenheim, the Youth Orchestras’ high-powered music director, will also conduct in the Fresno concert. He is energized by working with youth orchestras.
“The talent in this Valley is extraordinary,” said Loewenheim, a cello professor at Fresno State and conductor in the Fresno State Symphony Orchestra. “We are lucky to have these young musicians to work with.”
YOOF was established in 1950 as an all-city string ensemble and morphed through the decades into the Kiwanis Youth Orchestra, the Fresno Junior Philharmonic Orchestra and the Fresno Youth Philharmonic.
Today’s Youth Orchestras of Fresno welcome participants of all ages and backgrounds from counties throughout the Central Valley.
YOOF is composed of three levels: Youth Chamber Orchestra, Youth Symphony Orchestra and Youth Philharmonic Orchestra.
Granite Ridge Intermediate student Julianne Hsu just turned 12 last week and is one of the youngest two members of the top-tier YPO this year.
She played cello in YSO for two years, earning the First Chair honor last year.
Julianne plays piano as well, but her heart is in cello.
“I just really liked the sound of the cello and I wanted to play a string instrument,” she said. “When I first saw it I didn’t think it was going to be that difficult to play because I thought with violin and viola, the way they hold it is really weird. So I thought cello looked more natural.”
Julianne practices her instrument for 30 to 45 minutes daily, takes private lessons every Thursday and practices with YOOF every Sunday.
She loves the competition and high caliber of performers in YPO.
“It’s really fun and I think that it teaches a lot about rhythm and being in tune because if you’re out of tune or playing at the wrong spot, you’re going to mess up the whole orchestra because they can hear when you mess up,” she said.
Her goal is to sit in YPO’s first chair before graduating from high school.
Julianne’s mother, Wendy Yeh, said she has watched her daughter improve during her time with YOOF.
“They work as a group and that’s really fun for the kids,” she said. “Practicing is boring for the kids and they don’t have patience, but by going to orchestra they practice all together as a group, so it’s fun.”
YOOF members push each other to do better and work harder, Yeh said.
“Also, they have that special moment on the stage performing for the audience, so they have that pride in their mind and that’s the whole motivation to keep them going.”
Aidan joined YOOF as a seventh grader at Alta Sierra Intermediate and also played in the second-tier YSO for two years. He, along with Julianne, has moved up to YPO.
He enjoys performing for an audience.
“The final concerts of the year are always the most memorable,” Aidan said. “It’s like the grand finale at Saroyan.”
Kimberly Coleman said playing with YOOF has given Aidan more exposure and valuable experience in orchestra.
“You have different conductors and they come with a different approach. So he learns to understand different conductors and what they expect from you,” she said.
Aidan hopes to use this experience to fulfill his dreams of attending Juilliard and studying under famous violinist Itzhak Perlman.
“Besides being a world famous musician, I want to be a conductor and composer,” Aidan said.
But the Colemans know talent will only get a person so far; hard work is essential to success. That’s why Aidan practices violin about 90 minutes each day, and even six to seven hours a day during the summer, said his mother. “He prefers practicing to doing homework.”
Youth Orchestras of Fresno and Youth Orchestras of Los Angeles concert
When: 6:30 p.m. for Q&A session with YOLA conductor Juan Felipe Molano; concert begins at 7 p.m., Friday, Oct. 28
Where: William Saroyan Theatre, 730 M Street, Fresno
How much: Free. To reserve your free seats, go to yoofyola.eventbrite.com.
Details: firstname.lastname@example.org or youthorchestrasfresno.org