Grady High students prepare for Atlanta Symphony Youth Orchestra’s Winter Concert

Two Grady High students will join the Atlanta Symphony Youth Orchestra for the group’s Winter Concert on Saturday, March 12, at Symphony Hall inside the Woodruff Arts Center. Junior cellist Andrew Cleveland and senior bassist Kiah Simmons will perform with more than 100 talented youth musicians in this orchestra geared toward 13-18-year-olds.        

 “I love it because I’ve made a lot of friends in there,” Cleveland said. “I know everyone even though we have around 100 people.”

Cleveland, a four-year member orchestra, has been playing the cello for nine years, following his grandmother’s dream.

 “My grandmother played cello,” Cleveland said. “I play with her old cello, which is like 120 years old. It’s great for me because music is a beautiful thing and a fun way to express yourself.”

Cleveland practices cello Monday through Thursday, four hours a day, in addition to ASYO practices every Saturday morning. He balances this and playing bass in a rock band called Lotus Slide.

“My mom kind of balances my schedule,” Cleveland said. “She’s the one who tells me when I need to come home and practice cello and when I get to go to band practice.”

This is Simmons’ first year in the ASYO, and her first experience in an orchestra of this caliber. Though nervous, Simmons says she made it through her auditions and now loves participating in the orchestra.

 “To be a part of [the orchestra], at first you could be a little intimidated, which I was,” Simmons said. “But then once you get into it feels really awesome to just be a part of something like that.”

The ASYO has been around for 37 years; the conductor, Maestro Jere Flint, had led the orchestra for 32 of those years. The ASYO has performed in the closing ceremonies of the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta and with musical group Collective Soul, and is planning to perform with rock group Sister Hazel, this summer.

 “My favorite concert was probably the Christmas concert because it involved a choir and dancers,” Simmons recalls. “It was like no other concert I’ve ever been involved with.”

For Simmons and Cleveland, the ASYO has created a unique opportunity for them to perform and operate in a professional orchestral environment. The orchestra has even had the change to receive coaching from members of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra.

 “My favorite part of [the ASYO] is the intensive sectionals,” Simmons said. “We get coaches to come in from the ASO and they help us with the pieces that we’re playing and instrument-specific techniques.”

Grady orchestra teacher Sergio Rodriguez said he is so glad that his students are a part of such a professional program.

 “It is a big deal to me,” said Rodriguez. “Only a few players in Georgia are accepted. This will open new doors for [Kiah and Andrew] and they will meet incredible artists, the best musicians in the world. I am so proud of them.”

While Simmons and Cleveland are not sure what their futures hold, both are sure that it will involve music.

 “I’m not sure what I want to do in the future,” Cleveland said. “But I am just glad to be in the ASYO. It’s cool to be with people who share the same passion.”

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