Before Gigi Turgeon was born, her grandfather studied music in Paris under composer Charles Camille Saint Saens. At the age of 3, Gigi started learning to play the violin. And now, as a member of the Northern Virginia Youth Symphony, she is 9 years old and practices violin four hours a day. "All my teachers have had faith in me," she says.
John Tuerck, a seventh grader, recently placed first in the Northern Virginia Youth Symphony intermediate solo competition for violinists. He says he plays because "my dad wants me to do it," but John hints that the real reason is because "my grandfather is a really good musician."
Steven Patti was considered by his ninth-grade colleagues to be a premiere violinist before he won the Northern Virginia Youth Symphony's senior solo competition this year. He will attend the prestigious Meadowmount music camp for the second time this summer. That's where he acquired the habit of practicing five hours a day. Steven says his grandfather, who had a dance orchestra in Boston, used to practice with him all the time. "He was a real help," Steven remembers.
The love of music that was established as a tradition in the families of these young people is strong, and it is likely to continue through their work in the Northern Virginia Youth Symphony, a group that draws its 200 members from 70 different Virginia schols.
The season's final concerts were performed recently by the three separate groups that compose the symphony: the String Ensemble, the Intermediate Orchestra and the Youth Symphony. The year culminated in a series of competitions for players of all instruments. Scholarships, which top winners received, offer them another chance to develop musical excellence as they depart for music camps around the country.
The musical tradition influencing these young musicians can be seen in the history of the symphony itself, as well as in their families. Past members have gone to the Eastman School of Music, the Baltimore and Cleveland symphonies and other prestigious schools and orchestras. As one parent noted, "A lot of the big groups steal our members away too quickly."
Parents active in the association that manages the symphony have definite philosophies about their children's dedication to the group.
"The direction is that the kids would become professional musicians, but . . . having community leaders like them for music is very important," said Alan Moghissi, whose son is a symphony member.
There is, of course, concern among these parents about the person chosen as the conductor of the symphony. Guido Mansuino, a violinist with the National Symphony Orchestra, presently fills the job. Moghissi said they've found in him "a conductor who inspires artistic feeling among kids . . . and who has the minimum requirement of getting along with the kids, and the maximum requirement of artistic ability."
In turn, Mansuino describes the students in the symphony as "highly motivated."
"They find more time to practice," Mansuino said. "Competition breeds that kind of spirit. The more you practice, the better you become and the more you want to be heard."
Scott Backus, a senior class student who won first place in the wind division this year, said that what competition he is aware of does not put him under any pressure.
Symphone tuition is $55 a year, an amount that seems trivial when compared to the cost of private music lessons, which average $20 to $25 a week.
As parents are quick to add, the lesson fees do not take into account expenditures for new instruments and time spent waiting, chauffeuring and juggling family schedules.
But these demands pale in comparison with the rigid dedication of these parents and children to the entire music experience.