They may be young, but members of the Portland Youth Rock Orchestra sure know how to make music
The color of the evening: black. The hair length: shaggy, bordering on long. The music: loud. Very loud.
This was the atmosphere when the Portland Youth Rock Orchestra took the stage for a special evening concert performance on Aug. 30 at Portland State University.
Although the group is led by Portlander Brent Gunter and features performers from all different areas, a few locals actively participated in summer rehearsals, including Beaverton residents Josh Friedman and Stevie Tertadian.
The whole idea behind the rock orchestra is to provide young people with an alternative to the jazz or classical models of band offered in schools. Gunter said it is a 'crying shame' that those are the only musical choices in the education system for young people these days, and by forming the Portland Youth Rock Orchestra, he gives talented musicians between the ages of 7 and 23 a chance to practice the type of music they love.
Some of the songs played by the orchestra include Led Zeppelin's 'Kashmir' and Ozzy Osbourne's 'Crazy Train,' as well as Jimi Hendrix's 'Purple Haze.' While these classics are always popular choices, Gunter said it doesn't matter to him what the group plays, as long as the members are doing the best they can.
'I really love the songs that the kids play with passion,' he said. 'I don't mind if it's neo-classical, classic rock or something more current. All that matters is that the kids play from their hearts with passion while advancing their dreams of being exceptional at their instruments.'
This summer was the first time the rock orchestra met. Gunter said between 10 and 20 people showed up at the weekly rehearsals, and he would like to see that number grow to at least 30 for the fall session. Rather than just being open to all interested musicians, however, members of the orchestra must go through an audition process that includes playing up to a five-minute piece of their choosing, some theory tests and a little bit of informal improvisation. Gunter said he sees the orchestra as an outlet for high-caliber young musicians, and by holding auditions he is ensuring that those who are selected possess the necessary levels of talent.
'I think the main reason (for the orchestra) is to provide performance groups for kids who really are good at what they do,' he said.
Friedman, a 16-year-old junior at Aloha High School, plays bass for the orchestra. He said that being in the group has given him a network of other quality musicians to practice with, and he is excited at the possibility of forming a band with some of the other members.
'I get to meet people I can try to make bands with,' he said. 'People have to be dedicated (to be in a band), and since they are paying to be in the orchestra, they will be.'
Friedman has been a music fan for much of his life, but only really got serious about playing it a few years back. He said one of his earliest memories is being 2 or 3 years old and playing air guitar to Jimi Hendrix's 'Foxy Lady'; despite this promising beginning, he said he never felt enough interest in either the guitar or drums to continue practicing them for very long.
As a member of the rock orchestra, Friedman said he gets a lot of opportunity to practice with a number of different people and play all types of music that he doesn't always enjoy, such as heavy metal. While it's sometimes difficult to adapt to all the songs and musical formats played, he knows it will help him grow and develop into a better musician. He also said the experience will look good on a music school application.
'(The orchestra) gives me a good learning opportunity,' Friedman said.
At 11 years old, Tertadian was the youngest member of Gunter's summer group. A fan of bands such as Led Zeppelin and AC/DC, he said he has been playing electric guitar for about three years now, and actually heard about the orchestra from his guitar teacher. Tertadian said he has had a lot of fun going to the weekly rehearsals, and if he is able to he would like to try it again during the school year or next summer.
'It's really fun … playing with other people and making the songs sound good,' he said. 'Getting together with other people is really fun.'