Some parents are worried that their child will be bored at a classical music concert. But when the entire concert is kids playing music for other kids (and their parents), children in the audience seem mesmerized. And that’s what the Portland Youth Philharmonic (PYP) does best — it inspires and fascinates youth.


PYP is America’s first youth orchestra, established in 1924 right here in Portland. All of the musicians are kids, with most of PYP comprising teenagers from schools all over northwest Oregon and southwest Washington. Students have to go through a competitive audition in order to be accepted into this elite orchestra.

I took Nathan (age 11), my sister and my husband to PYP’s Winter Concert on Saturday, March 4 at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall in downtown Portland.

Here’s an insider tip for parents with younger kids: Get seats in the Mezzanine Row, not down on the floor, so your children can get an eagle-eye view of every musician on stage. Kids will be fascinated by the synchronized movements of the string section, which can sometimes look like a seated dance troupe as they saw furiously, but always perfectly in time with each other, across their strings. Our family especially likes to watch the percussion section — the kids bopping around playing tambourines and striking the huge bass drum.

The night’s program was a showcase of music that evoked a rainbow of emotions — sadness, humor, joy, pride, wonder. We started the night off with a romantic piece by Samuel Barber before moving into some contemporary music by Peter Schickele that featured an unexpected French horn solo. French horn soloist Roger Kaza at times sang into his horn, sang in addition to playing his horn, and performed a brief clown routine while playing his horn. The audience gave him an enthusiastic standing ovation after this performance.

After the intermission, we listened to the hauntingly beautiful “Nuages” from “Trois Nocturnes” by Claude Debussy, a piece that is supposed to evoke the dreaminess of clouds. The triumphant and festive “Le Carnaval Romain, Op. 9” by Hector Berlioz finished up the evening, and featured truly athletic conducting by Musical Director David Hattner. The audience immediately leapt to its feet to give him and the orchestra a standing ovation and not one, but two curtain calls.

If you too want to listen, watch and experience this thrilling music, check out PYP’s Spring Concert on Sunday, May 7 at 4 p.m. at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall. At 4 p.m., younger kids can visit an “instrument petting zoo” in the lobby before the concert starts to try out various string instruments. It’s a great way to introduce them to this beautiful music. 

MaryJo Monroe
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