LINCOLN SQUARE — By the age of 16 or 17, members of the Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestra's Accelerando Strings ensemble have been practicing the violin or cello for 10 years or more.
That training was evident during a recent concert at Amundsen High School, where the young musicians expertly tackled Bach and Beethoven.
Amundsen's advanced string orchestra took the stage after the youth orchestra and countered with the "Brandenburg Concerto No. 5 in D major."
While perhaps less masterful, the performance was all the more impressive given that few if any of Amundsen's students had put bow to string before reaching high school, and many had been placed in the orchestra simply to fulfill Chicago Public Schools' music requirement.
"We're a project in the works here," said Sean Reidy, Amundsen's orchestra director.
For the second year in a row, Amundsen was chosen by the Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestra as its partner for a joint concert at a CPS neighborhood school.
"It's such a big deal" for his students, Reidy told the audience gathered for the performance. "It shows these guys where we're headed, where they're headed."
Ask Amundsen sophomore Ivan Ledon where he's headed and he'll say the orchestra pit at North Park or Northeastern Illinois University.
"I want to be a musician," said Ledon, who took Reidy's beginner orchestra class as a freshman and quickly moved up to the advanced ensemble.
He admitted to a case of nerves before playing in front of a sizable crowd of parents, teachers and fellow students.
"It's very exciting to be working with one of the most wonderful orchestras," Ledon said.
Parents beamed as they watched their children blossom in the spotlight.
"He hated high school before, this is his favorite thing now," Nicki Graybeal said of her son, a junior in Amundsen's orchestra. "Watching them with the CYSO, it shows them where they can go."
Even for students who don't wind up majoring in music in college or pursuing a career as a musician, the skills they gain by participating in orchestra will serve them well throughout their lives, said Daniella Valdez, conductor of the Accelerando Strings.
"The amount of discipline they learn is transferable to anything," she said.