After its spring concert was canceled last year just three weeks before the performance due to COVID-19, the percussion ensemble of Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras didn’t want a similar disappointment this year.
But first the ensemble had to find rehearsal space because it had to leave its previous location. Not an easy task for a group of 12 students and five guest artists playing and then storing equipment that includes 10 copper bowl timpani, four marimbas, a xylophone, a vibraphone, chimes, a Roland keyboard and smaller instruments.
Once Monona Terrace was secured for rehearsal space, the “Percussion Extravaganza” concert was recorded, because an audience can’t be safely accommodated amid the coronavirus pandemic. It will be available online at 4 p.m. Saturday.
The Monona Terrace space has been an oasis for students who have been rehearsing there masked and distanced.
“We love it there,” said Vicki P. Jenks, percussion ensemble director. “The importance of this I hear quite regularly for the parents — ‘This has been a saving grace for my child.’ They are so depressed not to be at school.”
Ingrid Malin, a junior at Mount Horeb High School, said the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras is a highlight of her week.
“We get to come here and make music in this beautiful space,” Malin said.
Nick Ruplinger, an eighth-grader at Cardinal Heights Upper Middle School in Sun Prairie, and T Angelina, a West High School sophomore, said participation in the percussion ensemble is their only in-person activity.
Ruplinger said the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras is “like a second family.”
“It’s just really good to be around people,” Angelina said.
Luke Ortiz-Whittingham, a senior at Middleton High School, said not being able to perform last spring was disappointing.
“We’ve been reunited,” he said.
The group is led by Jenks, who has been with Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras for 40 years. Dane Crozier, a West High School graduate and a Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras alum, is assistant director of percussion and global percussion specialist.
While looking for rehearsal space, other places were considered, including a high school, bar, restaurant and martial arts studio, but none of them panned out. That’s when Jenks thought of Monona Terrace because she has attended music educators conventions there. The convention center, which has seen little use during the pandemic, had a ballroom with plenty of space, and it will be available for the group until its final recording on May 22.
The ensemble’s needs also included storing $90,000 of new percussion equipment purchased with a grant from an anonymous donor.
For Saturday’s concert, the ensemble will present a program that references and weaves together the story of the past year. The ensemble chose as its 2020-21 theme “To Those Who are Brave,” which is also the title of a resonant composition of percussion and spoken word composed by Phillip Mikula on the evening of September 11, 2001. The ensemble will begin the performance with a recitation of the poem “To Those Who Are Brave.”
The online concert is free. Pre-registration is required at wysomusic.org/2021-virtual-percussion-extravaganza.
Anais Griffith-Oh, a freshman at West High School, worked with her mom, Sally, to design this year’s T-shirt, and the musicians wore it during the recording.
“We tried to come up with a symbol that represents bravery and we decided on a phoenix,” said Griffith-Oh, who plays the marimba. “We are playing during a global pandemic. It’s sort of teaching us patience and new (ways) to cooperate and believe in each other.”