By Pam Harnden, Livermore Falls Advertiser
FARMINGTON — Mid Maine Youth Orchestra, which is gearing up for its 34th concert season, has connections to its very first season.
MMYO was founded by Dennis Hayes and Karen McCann, former music teachers at Mt. Blue High School.
Auditions for middle and high school students are held in October. Those selected have a couple of rehearsals, then break for two months.
In January, twice weekly rehearsals resume. One is held at Mt. Blue, the other at Messalonski High School in Oakland.
Concerts will be held at Messalonski’s Performing Arts Center at 7 p.m., Friday March 2 and at Mt. Blue’s Bjorn Auditorium, 3 p.m., Sunday, March 4. Admission is free, but donations are accepted to cover some costs. Advertising opportunities are available.
MMYO Music Director Andrew J. Forster performed in MMYO’s first season while a student at Mt. Blue. He is a music teacher at Messalonski and was a sectional leader, directing the wind and percussion sections, under the founders.
When they retired in 2005, Forster took over.
Last year Kathleen Pike of Jay became MMYO manager. Her husband, Joel Pike, is a Mt. Blue graduate who also performed in the orchestra’s first year.
Their daughter, Mt. Blue student Hallie Pike, plays clarinet in MMYO.
Kathleen Pike said at least one other student this year had a parent in the program. Next year there could be several second generation students.
Daniel Keller is Associate Conductor. Before retiring, he directed the string program at Waterville High School.
Forty-one students, grades seven through twelve, from twenty-two communities and fourteen schools throughout western and central Maine were chosen for MMYO this year.
Forster said musical selections are based on what matches with the students and instruments. He and Keller try to find pieces that feature all sections of the orchestra. This year percussion will be featured in one piece as other selections are light on that section.
Forster said all of the sending schools have really fine music programs. Schools with string programs don’t always have exposure to other instruments.
“MMYO is a fantastic marriage of all the instruments. It enriches the individual music programs. It wouldn’t exist without those programs and their music teachers,” Forster said.
Forster splits his duties with Keller. They oversee auditions, music selection and where each student will sit in the orchestra.
“The string section is the motor of the orchestra; it’s the largest section,” Keller said.
Kathleen Pike said MMYO gives students more exposure to their peers. Several participate in robotics, ski teams or other school activities.
“They’re a well-rounded group,” she said. “MMYO has existed this long due to parental involvement and their dedication to the program.”
Seventeen MMYO students participated in the recently held Kennebec Valley Music Festival. Nineteen high school students are going to the All-State Music Festival, held at the UMaine Orono campus, in May.
“Over half of MMYO’s students were chosen for other audition-only festivals,” Pike said.