After walking into the Kennedy Center, the audience members sit down, close their eyes and allow the soothing sounds of the orchestra to fill their ears. Opening their eyes, most may be expecting to see a poised group of professional musicians with decades of experience, but instead, they see high school students.
Freshman Isabel Aronin plays the viola in the National Symphony Orchestra (NSO) Youth Fellowship Program. The fellowship, established in 1980, is a training program for serious and dedicated high school students in the D.C. area who want the opportunity to play in an orchestra. This year, 39 people auditioned and only nine got in.
Once accepted into the full-scholarship program, it provides vast opportunities. Students study with a professional NSO musician, participate in Chamber Music coachings, rehearse with the NSO, watch NSO rehearsals, take part in classes and discussions and perform on the Millennium Stage at the Kennedy Center at least twice a year.
“We have already met five world famous musicians just this year, and there are still more to come,” Aronin said. “When I say met, I mean we get to have a real conversation with them, when others not in the program only get the chance to briefly speak to them after a concert.”
In addition to meeting well-known performers, the fellowship members meet and play alongside other young musicians like themselves.
“I’ve made such good friends through this program, and it’s great knowing they’re in the same boat as you,” Stone Ridge freshman Piper Suk said. “They don’t tell you when you first apply that you’ll make amazing friends who share the same passion as you, something that is difficult in high school.”
Emily Heckel, the manager of NSO and music education at the Kennedy Center, emphasized that the NSO youth fellowship is a large time commitment.
“The goal of the program is to encourage students to become professional musicians,” Heckel said. “The students are musically curious, ambitious and hardworking.”
Participants value the various experiences offered to them in the fellowship, but also take advantage of the many doors opened for them after the program. Aronin said she was shocked to hear how many alumni moved on to be in national orchestras.
“I love playing the viola and I have no idea what I would do without music in my life,” Aronin said. “This program is opening up so many doors for me that I probably would not have without it.”
Click the link below to watch one of Aronin’s performances at the Kennedy Center on Feb. 16: