As the school year starts, Vancouver’s own youth symphony heads into another season. For many years, before heading off to college and then grad school, I was a member myself. To bring some attention to the group, I interviewed Victoria Racz, my old music teacher, and one of the founders of the Junior Symphony of Vancouver (JSV).

Junior Sympthony of Vancouver
The Junior Symphony of Vancouver performed their 2012 Christmas concert at the Water Resource Education Center. Photo credit: Junior Symphony of Vancouver

Victoria says the group started in 1999, with its debut concert on December 4 of that year at Saint Andrew Lutheran Church. Since it’s inaugural concert, the Junior Symphony of Vancouver has bounced around a few venues, mostly churches. Their current venue is Cascades Presbyterian Church.

I asked Victoria why she feels it is important for Vancouver to have its own youth orchestra. “Every city is defined by its arts,” she says. “Think about trips you’ve taken— I suppose that some people might come back and talk about transportation systems and commerce, but most people will rave about the art they have seen and music they have heard. The culture, or lack of it, defines a region.”

“Vancouver is a place that seems to still be seeking its identity, especially as it tends to be overshadowed by larger neighbors,” she continues. “Those seeking a date night still tend to head across the river, and it would be better if more of us spent our money and fed the economy in our own community.  Also, these talented young musicians deserve their own recognition and community identity.”

I asked Victoria to share examples of the symphony creating positive changes in its members. To answer that question, Victoria has me turn inward. I was a long-term member of the JSV, someone who later went on to get a degree in music and find my own path. The focus on chamber music as opposed to large orchestral works helped prepare me for the kind of work I would most often encounter in my career. Being in a smaller group, instead of one member out of dozens in just a single section, helped bring personalized attention to what I needed to work on as a young musician, as well as encouragement when I was headed in the right direction. Encouragement from then-director Timoteus Racz helped give me the confidence going forward to forge my own path. Victoria says she’s seen similar trends in JSV alumni, noting that they have become successful adults, most of whom continue to keep music in their lives.

Junior Sympthony of Vancouver
The original director and co-founder of the JSV, Timoteus Racz, leads a rehearsal room full of music-loving students. Photo credit: Junior Symphony of Vancouver

The other founder of the Junior Symphony was Victoria’s late husband, Timoteus Racz. For years he held a part in the community as a teacher, violin shop owner, composer, and JSV director/conductor. He passed away of a heart attack in 2012. What I remember most is Tim’s fervent passion for bringing music to the local community, but especially the youth in our area. His great sense of humor and gentle no nonsense personality helped him connect with the kids. Since then, the JSV has been left in very capable hands.

Collin Heade, a local cellist and conductor, is in his sixth season as director of the symphony. Aside from the JSV, he also directs smaller community and youth groups in the greater area, such as Hillsboro’s Westside Community & Youth Orchestra. I remember working with Collin when I was in high school and he was director of the North Oregon Coast Symphony.

Junior Sympthony of Vancouver
The current members of the Junior Symphony with director Collin Heade. Rehearsals are well under way for their next concert. Photo credit: Junior Symphony of Vancouver

Victoria says she would love to continue Tim’s legacy into the future to give the young musicians of Southwest Washington an opportunity to find their voices, and support the music of the local community.

With Collin Heade at the helm, and the support of the community, I think they’ll be in good hands.

Learn more, including audition times, concert dates, and ticket prices, at the Junior Symphony of Vancouver website or JSV Facebook page.

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