IN A CITY full of underpublicized, under-the-radar arts groups, perhaps the single largest is the Armstrong Atlantic Youth Orchestra (AAYO) Program, holding its spring concert this Tuesday night, April 29.
The AAYO Program is actually an umbrella term for three ensembles:
• Lyric Strings, which concentrate on beginning and elementary-level players;
• The Atlantic Chamber Orchestra, which despite the name is actually a full orchestra comprising intermediate-level students;
• and the advanced Youth Orchestra itself, which is open to Armstrong students seeking credit for ensemble work.
Far from a casual extracurricular pursuit, most of the year the students work at a fast pace digesting professionally arranged music (the Advanced Group actually uses sheet music from the archives of the old Savannah Symphony Orchestra) from Bach to bluegrass, under professional direction.
Anyone who has been to one of their concerts knows they are not mere recitals, with the caliber of the performances always surprising people who’ve never heard the group before.
Practicing and performing for the most part on the campus of Armstrong Atlantic, the Youth Orchestra has nearly 200 young participants, under the direction of some of Savannah’s most notable classical music names.
Lorraine Jones directs the intermediate group, the Atlantic Chamber Orchestra, which though focused on middle-school age students is not limited to that group.
“It’s not based on grade level, it’s based on talent,” Jones points out, a caveat that applies to the audition-based structure of the entire Youth Orchestra Program.
She says not only are all the AAYO groups doing remarkable work, it’s also unique work in the region. The Atlantic Chamber Orchestra, for example, provides a rare outlet for its age group.
“We keep asking around and looking online, and this is the only group like it for this age level in Georgia, Florida or South Carolina,” she says. “Atlanta, of course, has orchestras in the schools, but not at that age level.”
Jones says while the program bears the Armstrong moniker, it’s self-supporting and dependent on donations.
“The (nonprofit) Savannah Friends of Music have been giving us most of our operating expenses, and our members pay a fee to join,” says Jones. “And of course the in-kind donations from Armstrong are huge.”
Jones says the Youth Orchestra and AASU have hit on something of a win-win situation, with the Orchestra able to use Armstrong’s copious facilities and the university in turn seeing the public profile for its music program rise.
“Armstrong has facilities that they’d like to see used, and I’m sure it’s good for them to have 175 families trafficking the building. I think they see it as a good recruiting tool.”
Armstrong Atlantic Youth OrchestraWhen: Lyric Ensembles and Atlantic Chamber Orchestra perform at 6:30 p.m., Youth Orchestra performs at 7:45 p.m. after an intermissionWhere: Armstrong Center Ballroom, 13040 Abercorn St. (the old Publix)Cost: $6.Info: 927-5381 or www.finearts.armstrong.edu.