“It’s More Than A Symphony”: Insight on the Rise of Aspiring Young Musicians in New York City

A profile of the New York Youth Symphony Orchestra Program.


Samuel Sianipar / Unsplash

The New York Youth Symphony Orchestra is acknowledged as one of the most successful youth orchestras in the nation, but there’s more to it than just a title.

“It’s more than a symphony,” said Jeffrey Yang ’25.

“Would you mind elaborating on that statement a little bit more?” I asked.

“It is the motto for the symphony, and it’s the perfect way to describe exactly what it represents to all of us. The symphony is perceived by many to be merely an orchestra, but it is much more that a mere title can express; it holds a much larger grandeur even compared to a Grammy,” Yang said. 

“Right off the bat, I was exposed to an outside activity, something that I actually enjoyed and could commit to. That moment was the beginning of a new period in my life,” he added.

Where it All Started

The aspiring musician community of  New York City is ever growing. Every year, young musicians go through a strict application process, hoping to be selected into an extremely competitive symphony. Every summer, young students prepare pieces and undergo a nerve-racking audition that will influence the next few years of their life. 

With the motto “Dedicated to showcasing the metropolitan area’s most gifted musicians,” the New York Youth Symphony, founded in 1963, has prospered in the creation and display of many renowned musicians within New York City. It is a program dedicated to aspiring young musicians, with ages ranging from 12 to 22. The symphony covers multiple programs, such as Chamber Music, conducting, composition, Jazz, and Musical Theater.

Young musicians practice and train for hours in order to perfect their art pieces every year and perform at hugely popular venues, most notably Carnegie Hall and Jazz at Lincoln Center. NYYS has commissioned over a total of 170 works since 1984, and continues to annually produce successful performances.

Much of the orchestra’s performances are located at Carnegie Hall. Here, you can find the orchestra performing a few times a year. (Ajay Suresh from New York, NY, USA, CC BY 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons)

While being a high school student at Bronx Science, Yang also takes part in the symphony program on the side. He had joined the program around two years ago, a little after quarantine, because he has a deep passion for the violin. Upon being accepted into the symphony, he began to challenge himself and his capabilities.

“I’ve been forced to develop and grow through the orchestra. I wouldn’t be who I am today if it weren’t for the nerve wracking performances or hours of practice,” Yang said.

Major Success

Just last November 2022, the symphony orchestra was nominated for the “Best Orchestral Performance” Grammy with their debut album, ‘Florence Price: Ethiopia’s Shadow in America; Piano Concerto in One Movement • Valerie Coleman: Umoja • Jessie Montgomery: Soul Force.’ The debut album was directed by Music Director Michael Repper. He is the music director of the orchestra and has contributed to all of their performances since 2017. 

“It is remarkable how we were able to achieve such recognition and acknowledgement throughout the country just from our debut album,” Yang said. 

Then the final moment came. The entire orchestra was sitting in their rehearsal room and were all intensely staring at the livestream of the Grammy Awards on a large screen. The anticipation, excitement, and even fear spread throughout the rehearsal room. 

In early February of 2023, the Grammy winner for the ‘Best Orchestral Performance’ was announced. The New York Youth Symphony had won the Grammy with their debut album! 

“I just rose up from my chair and hugged my closest friends. Tears were rolling down my eyes and my emotions were everywhere,” Yang said.

Making history in the lifespan of the Grammys, NYYS Orchestra was the first youth orchestra to ever win a Grammy in that category. 

“Now I can finally say it; we’ve written history,” Yang said.

In the Process of Development

Being enrolled into NYYS comes with an enormous commitment. Placed amongst dozens of other hand-selected and skilled aspiring musicians, one is placed in an environment where they can be challenged and pushed to reach their full potential. 

“Since the level of everyone is so high and we go through so much material in a short time span, there is a pressure to practice outside of rehearsals,” Yang said. 

Rehearsals typically last for for hours every Sunday. Regardless, many musicians continue to practice outside the rehearsal room. “Finding motivation to practice isn’t always easy, but it’s nice to know that there are others there to encourage me when I’m stuck. I can always rely on others for help and I learn more efficiently with my peers,” Yang noted. 

Even with the large success of their debut album, the NYYS could not create such a one-of-a-kind work with ease.  At the height of the pandemic in 2020, cases of COVID-19 skyrocketed and quarantine was enforced. 

“We had to improvise, and it seems like it worked out pretty well,” Yang said.

Instead of recording each piece at once with the entire orchestra, each musician was required to record their part individually. Every track for each musician was layered and placed together to produce one piece. Having each musician record with their own microphones is much harder than it seems. 

“Listening back to my recording, the audio would get muffled, chopped, or interrupted by something. I had to repeatedly record my parts, and it still wasn’t perfect,” Yang said.

Behind the Scenes

Labeled with a list of accomplishments, the symphony is more like a family. I’ve met some of my closest friends through NYYS, and the camaraderie we share is truly unique,” Jeffrey Yang ’25 said. (Manuel Nägeli / Unsplash)

A Grammy is what the NYYS Orchestra will be remembered for from now on. However, to the hearts of the young musicians within the symphony, the grandeur of the award cannot reflect the actual value of the symphony. 

“What does this orchestra mean to you?” I asked him.

“Yes, we are all teenagers who play together in an orchestra of the highest caliber, but the secret isn’t just our skill level without our respective instruments. It’s also the bonds that are formed outside of rehearsals. The musical connection we feel is already world-class for our age (perhaps just in general outright), but the experience of growing together as we all go through school and similar experiences amplifies that connection to levels that are deserving of ‘more than a symphony,’ and that statement holds,” Yang replied. 

An orchestra is not only created with musicians and their instruments alone. The talents of many individuals shine brightly within an orchestra, but the most important outcome is when all musicians play together. Collaboration is a big aspect in a symphony. The skill to work with your peers and manipulate your instrument to build to the formation of a symphony.

From the great success of the New York Youth Symphony Orchestra and their title as Grammy winners, it is evident that there is much more behind the cameras. Many would consider them a great team, but they are more than just that; they are a family.

“It is what makes the entire experience worth it. NYYS is more than just an orchestra. It is a major part of my life, guiding and helping me throughout difficult times. The people, the bonds, make up the orchestra. It is the true value of NYYS to our lives and careers,” Yang said. 

The success of the orchestra is built upon the very experiences, emotions, and goals that every musician has been through. Everyone that enters rehearsals every Sunday is preparing for an enhancement of their skills, knowledge, and ability. The drive and commitment to ‘reach for the stars’ and make the most of their time is what motivates them. 

At the end of the day, we leave learning something new every day, and I feel like that’s what made NYYS the biggest impact in my life. I will never forget what NYYS has taught me or the people that I’ve met. It is truly more than a symphony, it is a family,” Jeffrey Yang ’25 said. (Manuel Nägeli / Unsplash)

Once they leave the orchestra, they have all gained the best possible experiences, whether it was during practices, rehearsals, or the little free time spent together. 

“It is all worth it,” Yang said.

“It is the motto for the symphony, and it’s the perfect way to describe exactly what it represents to all of us. The symphony is perceived by many to be merely an orchestra, but it is much more that a mere title can express; it holds a much larger grandeur even compared to a Grammy,” Jeffrey Yang ’25. said.