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Atlanta Symphony Youth Orchestra Caught in the Crossfire of Musician Lockout

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The Atlanta Symphony Youth Orchestra  kicked off its 41st season in August with its competitive audition process. For two weeks, more than 300 students auditioned for 120 seats in the premier youth orchestra. This year will be the first full season of the youth orchestra since the lockout of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra in 2014.

Last year, the youth orchestra became a casualty of the extended contract dispute between the musicians of the ASO and the management of the Woodruff Arts Center. Conflict arose when the Woodruff Arts Center demanded more concessions from the musicians after the the players had already agreed to significant budget cuts two years earlier.

The conflict between the parties got more inflammatory as the orchestra reached the beginning of its 70th season, with many of the season’s concerts and events in danger of cancellation.

In the crossfire, the Atlanta Symphony Youth Orchestra auditions were indefinitely delayed and  the first half of the season was canceled. For many young musicians, like hornist Sean Turner, who had been practicing for months, the lockout reflected a personal struggle they had faced everyday in their short careers: the unstable status of modern musicians.

“It made me think when I go into a musical performance that I’m going to have to deal with this kind of struggle all my life as well,” says Turner, a junior at Lambert High School. “People will look at me as an entertainer rather than an artist.”

Many young musicians, like clarinetist Alisha Zamore, also felt the consequences of the lockout through the struggles of their own private teacher.

“The lockout basically altered all of the big plans that I had to accomplish with the assistance of my teacher,” says Zamore, a sophomore at McIntosh High School. “Because I did not have my teacher who motivated me the most, I more than often questioned if I should major in music or not.”

The Atlanta Symphony Orchestra reached an agreement for a new labor deal in November 2014 with the Woodruff Arts Center and continue its concerts and community outreach programs, reminding many of their role in the Atlanta community in stimulating artistry in youth.

“Listening to my first ASO concert filled me with joy,” Zamore says. “I love the magical sound that an orchestra can bring. Music is so special to me because it is a way of telling a story. Since I am not a naturally outgoing person, music helps me to express how I feel.”

Callan Russell, a senior at Eagle’s Landing Christian Academy, believes that the work of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra is crucial to the music community in Atlanta.

“I have had so many amazing opportunities because of music and I have learned so much about myself through it and it means the world to me,” Russell says. “Music is so important and the fact that so many people don’t realize that or appreciate what the ASO provides to the music community is pretty unfortunate.”

The Atlanta Symphony Youth Orchestra will hold its first concert November 15th with Tchaikovsky’s 4th Symphony and Dukas’ Sorcerer’s Apprentice on the program. The orchestra will also be going on tour to Nashville, Tennessee where they will play at the Martha Rivers Ingram Center for the Performing Arts early next year.

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