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SALT LAKE CITY — For three decades, high school students from Northern Utah have had a unique opportunity to perform with the Utah Youth Orchestras.
They are a group of very determined young musicians with a fearless leader.
A rehearsal this week in Libby Gardner Hall produced a beautiful, rich sound.
The young musicians all attend different high schools from Logan to Utah County, Tooele to Vernal. And the remarkable thing is they rehearse together only once a week.
"I think they end up coming from 36 different high schools," said Barbara Scowcroft, the director and conductor.
For 30 years, Scowcroft, a first violinist with the Utah Symphony, has been at the helm. This is her vision. And she lovingly says, these are her kids.
"One of the best things about the Philharmonic is the caliber of the musicians," said cello player Emma Fine, 18, from Ogden High. "And the music is so amazing! When you're able to say you're playing Beethoven or Mozart, it's so cool! We learn about more than playing the notes, we learn about the lives of the composers."
John Myers, who is 17, comes from Skyline High School. He plays the bassoon in the Philharmonic and second violin in the Utah Youth Symphony.
"These people have a lot of the same interests as me and it's just a lot of fun to meet these people from all over who are just very amazing," Myers said.
Scowcroft instills in them the confidence to play the classics.
"They are some of the coolest people I know. They are some of the oldest and wisest souls that I know," Scowcroft said. "They put it through their 2016 mind, body, spirit, soul and it's new."
She auditioned for the position in 1986 because she loves conducting and young people. She says she was pleased to "get the gig." But then something happened.
"It was part way through the first rehearsal and I said to myself, 'Oh, Barbara Ann dear, this is not a gig.' This is a responsibility. It is a privilege. It is almost a holy responsibility. And I don't mean to overuse that word," Scowcroft said.
Scowcroft is graceful and energetic. She is both a teacher and a cheerleader.
"You're dealing with these precious teenagers. You look askance, you could hurt them. You give them encouragement that they deserve and they will transform themselves," Scowcroft said.
One of her former students, Mitchell Bodily, now assists Scowcroft as a mentor.
"It's been an amazing experience and Barb has been instrumental in that," Bodily said.
He has loved returning and rehearsing with them again.
"Just to help share my passion for the music, to help them interpret it a little bit differently," Bodily said.
He served an LDS mission in Ukraine, and fell in love with the people and the culture. The piece they are performing by Dmitri Shostakovich really speaks to his heart.
"Shostakovich was writing during the height of the Soviet Union. He is known for his little insights, how he was doing his own part against the Soviet Union, while still playing by party rules. Living over there adds lots of experiences. I've talked to a lot of people who lived during that time. So, that's what I kind of try to do as a mentor. I give them ideas and then let the music develop through them," Bodily said.
Bodily will perform his senior recital with the Utah Symphony before he graduates from the University of Utah. In August, he will enter medical school.
The nearly 200 positions in both the Utah Youth Philharmonic and Symphony come through auditions. They learn of the orchestras by word of mouth of from music teachers.
Foster Dennin, of Judge Memorial Catholic High School, is 16 and plays the cello.
"Having the same kind of love and passion for music, it's a great community to be a part of," said cello player Foster Dennin, 16, from Judge Memorial Catholic High School. "The music that we play is a challenge but it makes us grow and it's helped us become not only better musicians but better people."
Part of the joy of performing reaches a crescendo in some of Utah's great concert hall. John Myers remembers his first time in Abravanel Hall.
"I first started going to concerts when I was around seven or eight. And it's quite an experience to be on the other side, being on the stage instead. It's something. I can hardly believe where I am sometimes," Myers said.
For Scowcroft, it's about creating the atmosphere.
"For me, personally, I want this to be a refuge and a very safe place where they can come and put their lab coat on and really experiment. Even when they're exhausted after a week at school and they come here Friday afternoon, they still feel it and I still feel it. The spiritual awakening is because you are changed cellularly when you actually produce," Scowcroft said.
The Utah Youth Philharmonic performs Sunday at 7 p.m. at Libby Gardner Hall at the University of Utah.
The Utah Youth Symphony will perform in the Salt Lake Tabernacle on Saturday, Jan. 23 at 7:30 p.m. Both concerts are free.