Life as a Perth Youth Orchestra teen

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I’ve always been someone who loves a challenge. So, when I was 6 and offered the opportunity to play the violin, it became a major deal for me. When I first put the quarter-sized violin to my neck, I almost dropped it because of how strange it felt! But I decided to stick with it and so began my love of playing classical music. 

I can clearly remember my first lesson, walking up a steep hill to the music department and meeting the music teacher who was getting ready to teach my class. I was given a small green case and I carefully unzipped it to find the wooden treasure that would be my first violin.

We would have 15-minute lessons a week of how to hold a violin, what the strings are called and how to pluck them. After the term was over, we were given the choice to continue the violin or to pick another instrument. I was the only one to continue playing the violin, and at the age of seven, in May 2013 I passed my first initial exam with a distinction!

MADEN age 7Now aged 14 and playing at grade 7 I have accomplished so much. I have recently started playing the viola, adding a brand-new clef to my abilities. I have competed in competitions throughout Perthshire and have been part of many groups, most recent being Perth Youth Orchestra (PYO).

Perth Youth Orchestra is a registered Scottish charity founded in 1962 and they help support young musicians like me by introducing us to the world of the orchestra. Their first ever concert performance was on the 25th June 1964 and I’m glad that 54 years later, I am playing concerts throughout Scotland with such a fantastic orchestra.

This time last year I was eagerly waiting to find out if I had been accepted into the PYO.  I remember walking up to the doors of St Johns Academy where the auditions and rehearsals take place. I’ve never been good with managing anxiety and this was no exception.

My hands were shaking as I unzipped my case, got out my violin and put on my shoulder rest. I was in a section of the canteen with about 8 other hopeful candidates all preparing for the audition.

Five minutes later, it was my turn to play. I shuffled nervously down the long corridors, afraid to take a wrong turn to the audition room despite all the signs directing me. I arrived in the hallway and got ready to step through the door. The previous applicant walked out and I went in.

My hands were shaking as I unzipped my case, got out my violin and put on my shoulder rest.There were three people sitting behind a desk. I had never auditioned for an orchestra before. I’ve played in competitions and I’ve auditioned for school and community dramas, but I’ve never tried for an orchestra.

My head felt heavy and all my senses either amplified or disappeared completely. The sound of my music papers as I placed them on the frail wire stand was like thunder and I could barely hear the judge’s voices as I turned to face them. I doubt I made a good first impression and I had to ask them to repeat what they just said. Twice! Finally, I understood, and I played a D major two-octave scale as requested.

Then I was to play my piece, Hungarian Dance No.7 composed by Brahms. I placed my bow onto the strings, and I started to play. The room blurred and all I could feel was the music. The hairs bounced across the strings and I couldn’t tell if it was nerves or if I was just having a great day with the staccato. 

I was making a light, joyous tone with the opening bars and hiding my terror when it came to the double stops. After plucking the final chord of the main phrase I shifted to play my favourite part. The romantic, low shifts and- I was asked to stop playing.

I was scared out of my mind. I felt so stupid. I took the music off the stand and walked out of the room in despair…

After all that worry, I was offered a place in Perth Youth Orchestra! I was ecstatic! The next Monday I would be going to St Johns Academy as an official member of PYO! To this day I still don’t know why they stopped me playing. Even though these might seem like minor problems for most people, situations like this and other anxiety inducing moments for me are very different.

Situations like this and other anxiety inducing moments for me are very different as I have autism and ADHD.I have autism and ADHD. This makes everyday things and life difficult for me. I have always struggled with talking to people and making friends but being a member of PYO has allowed me to meet people with similar interests and the ability to express myself through music with a large group of musicians.

When it was finally Monday, I stepped through the electric doors and saw about 50 children ranging from 10-17 years old, with an even wider range of instruments. It was astounding. I didn’t quite know what to do. It wasn’t 6 pm yet and I didn’t know what room we rehearsed in, so I just sat there with my violin by my side. When it was time, we were all called into the main hall and started getting set up.

I was a second violin, so I was sitting somewhere in the middle. I turned around and saw my friend and old desk partner from a previous group I’d played with and we sat together. Her name is Jessica and we are both close friends now and with her help, I was able to meet more people within the orchestra.

Throughout the year I have been with PYO we have played a large range of music from Aida to Shostakovich, Finzi to The Greatest Showman and I have loved every minute of it. Our conductor, Allan Young, has been conducting PYO since 2001 and was previously a student(co-leader), and a tutor within the orchestra. He is very enthusiastic about music and a great inspiration which shows just how far you can come by determination, practice and dedication.

PYO play concerts throughout Scotland and on tours throughout Europe every couple of years. They hold annual music camps during the Easter break where we stay in small cabin dorms for four nights and practice throughout the day. It is also a massive social event for the orchestra, having free time and organised activities in the evenings. I’ve never been someone to enjoy social events, but I must admit I did enjoy the ceilidh.


PYO have just returned from a momentous tour of Italy this summer. It was a week of uplifting, triumphant music performing in 5 different venues, ending with a wonderful evening of dancing at Basilica Santa Maria Assunta, Montecatini. The big band was playing and at the end, the violins played ‘The Dashing White Sargent’ while everyone else danced. The Italian audience was invited to join them as the tour’s magical finale.

After a long tour, PYO came back to perform in Scotland’s capital. We rehearsed for around 3 hours then set out for dinner with the whole orchestra. It’s a nice social event for everyone but I was still nervous, I’d never been to a restaurant with that many people and was scared I would make a fool of myself with my inability to make quick decisions and speak to strangers.

Afterwards, we headed back to the concert venue, which was the quaint Greyfriars Kirk, an ornate, small Cathedral-like interior. I loved playing there and we had a much larger turn out than I expected, due to the growing popularity after our big-hit tour.  

We played our last concert of the year back home at Perth Concert Hall for a glorious end to my first year with Perth Youth Orchestra. For a few members, this would be their last performance with PYO, including our leader, Ola Stanton. We played all the pieces we had practiced throughout the year including the concertos and the strings suite.

I find it amazing that in just one year of joining PYO I’ve accomplished so much. It’s the first orchestra I’ve been with and I have had the most phenomenal experience. I’ve travelled throughout Scotland with my violin and friends and I thank PYO so much for the experiences I’ve had and look forward to the new year and syllabus ahead.

I could not imagine my life without music, and I would not be the person I am today without it. I could not imagine my life without music, and I would not be the person I am today without it. I have passed exams, competed in competitions throughout Perthshire and have been performing in the wonderful Perth Youth Orchestra I’m so happy to be a part of.

I’m astounded by how much I am capable of, especially having with autism, ADHD and anxiety. I think this shows that you really can do anything you’re passionate about. You alto believe it.

 Sorry, that was accidental.

I’ll just C my way out. Wait a minuet. Where’s the Handel?

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