WWhen the COVID-19 pandemic began, the Reno Philharmonic Youth Orchestras had to institute a wave of changes. Rehearsals were moved to Zoom. Tuition costs were cut in half. The main orchestra started pre-recording its “young people’s concerts” for classroom use—a practice that will continue in order to reach students in rural areas who can’t easily attend in person.

Heather Gage, Reno Phil’s Director of Education and Community Engagement, spoke with Theater Scoop about other changes the orchestra plans to keep as it gradually returns to normalcy.

What has been the impact of COVID-19 on rehearsals over the last season for the youth orchestra?

I guess the main part of our journey started last June, when we switched our auditions to a video recorded format, instead of having [students] come in-person. We also took some time to have guests who wouldn’t normally be able to come to their rehearsals, like our director, Laura Jackson of the main Reno Phil orchestra. Usually, she’s not able to come to those rehearsals.

We also were able to spend some time looking at different conductors and orchestras over the last, like, 50 years. … The director of our top orchestra was able to say, “Hey, you should take a look at the Chicago symphony orchestra from 20 years ago, and see how their director and his style compares to the way that we work today.” So we were able to bring in some different elements to keep it from just being a “reduced” experience, to being a different experience.

What are the plans for this season’s youth orchestra rehearsals, as far as COVID-19 is concerned? Are they going to be in person, virtual or a hybrid model?

We were finally able to get back together after spring break for the students. So we were able to rehearse outside socially distanced for the last eight weeks, which was great. Having the students able to be together again and hear the other parts in the orchestra was really important. We hope to move those rehearsals inside as we get into the next school year. We’re starting that by auditioning our students in person this weekend. We do have some who submitted video recordings instead of coming for the live audition, and I think that speaks to the kind of hybridization that we’ll need to expect for the coming year.

Were there any elements introduced over the past year that the youth orchestra plans to keep using moving forward?

We had them learn about score study last year. Usually in a rehearsal, a conductor is able to ask, “What are the bassoons doing in this part? Do they have the melody?” And the students are able to listen for that. But over Zoom, they weren’t able to listen. So we went back to the source material, which is the score, and that’s a huge, long piece of music that shows everything every instrument is doing during the entire piece. So taking the time out to do that was a really good addition to their musical understanding.


Young musicians can learn how to apply for the RPYO’s 2021-22 season here.

Photos courtesy Reno Philharmonic.


Posted by Charis Nixon

Charis Nixon is a former local news producer with a passion for Reno's arts community. She graduated from UNR's Reynolds School of Journalism with her BA in 2019, and she is preparing to attend UNLV for her MEd in curriculum and instruction in the fall.