A Nov. 8 article may have given the impression that there are no musical instruments at Deal Junior High School. The Northwest Washington school has a collection of instruments that students use to perform, but the instruments are not used in music theory classes. (Published 11/11/2005)

Lina Montopoli, 13, would love to study her favorite instrument, the viola, at school, but she can't: Alice Deal Junior High School in the District has no instruments for students to apply the music theory they learn, she said.

That's why she wakes up early each Saturday morning and joins fellow students in the D.C. Youth Orchestra, one of several dozen such organizations across the country that provide an outlet for young people to play orchestral music.

"I love playing," she said. "I move around a lot when I play, which some people say is annoying. But it helps me feel the music, and I often imagine how the people who composed it would feel when they were writing it."

The key to teaching young people to appreciate music is to give them as much hands-on experience as possible, said Michael Blakeslee, deputy executive director of the National Association for Music Education and president of the board of directors of the American Youth Philharmonic Orchestras in Virginia.

That's just what the D.C. Youth Orchestra does with its more than 800 instruments, said its executive director, Ava Spece.

The orchestra is different from other youth ensembles. Many hold auditions for admittance, but the D.C. orchestra is for anyone who wants to join -- even those with no training. It is intended, Spece said, as music education for D.C. students, who often get little or none in their public schools.

Students in the orchestra, who come from across the Washington region, are divided into 12 levels and must take proficiency exams to demonstrate their ability to move up, Spece said.

Lina and about 575 other youths ages 41/2 to 19 convene at Coolidge Senior High School in Northwest -- the orchestra is seeking a new home -- each Saturday for more than five hours of lessons and practice.

Lina said she loves the viola for its deep, rich, romantic tones. Her brother, 16-year-old Nick, a junior at School Without Walls in the District, started playing the violin at 5 and recently showed his expertise in a concert at the White House. Giving up Saturdays for the orchestra, he said, is no trouble.

"It's a real experience, like being part of a whole group," he said. "When you play a concert well, it's like playing on a sports team and winning."

Darlene Pryor is the mother of Troy, 13, who plays the viola, and trumpet-playing Travis, 15. Both boys have been in the orchestra for years. Pryor said she believes studying music has helped her sons, who attend Grace Brethren Christian School in Prince George's County, learn in other areas as well.

For one thing, she said, they have learned how to concentrate, and knowing how to focus helps them in other classes. What's more, Travis's trumpet playing has strengthened his lungs and eased his asthma, she said.

"I love to play classical music," Troy said. "I kind of feel free when I play. I just look at the music and imagine things in my mind."

Violin teacher Amanda Walker instructs Pius Tondio, 7, during a D.C. Youth Orchestra class at Coolidge Senior High.