The Center for Gifted Young Musicians within Boyer College of Music and Dance offers instruction from university staff to improve musical skills.
Ever since Mark Huxsoll, the director of music preparatory at Boyer College of Music and Dance heard the sounds of the pipe organ at his church as a child, he said he has been interested in music.
“That sound was so amazing to me,” Huxsoll said.
After taking up extra-curricular trumpet lessons in the fifth grade, Huxsoll was committed to a lifelong career in music.
“I bugged my parents to allow me to participate,” he said. “As soon as I started playing…it was hard for me to put down [the trumpet].”
After years of traveling around the United States and Canada educating youth who shared his love for music, Huxsoll settled on Main Campus, where he has been the director of music prep since 2004. The division encompasses a number of programs including the Community Music Scholars Program and the Center for Lifelong Learning, which hosts pupils ranging from toddlers to adults.
One program that has even produced musicians of international acclaim has been the Center for Gifted Young Musicians. The center was started in 1986, after Temple merged programs with the Curtis Institute in Center City. Charles Parker has been the coordinator of the chamber music ensemble of the program for the past 26 years.
“All of a sudden we had a lot of really fine students and we had to be able to encompass them,” Parker said referring to what brought about the merge of the program.
The Center for Gifted Young musicians is a program comprised of approximately 150 young students who show some level of proficiency in a stringed instrument, and occasionally piano, play in ensembles and solos with instruction and coaching from Boyer faculty.
Students in the program are as young as six years old or as old as 18, but Huxsoll said that age is not a defining factor for who is chosen to participate in the center.
“We have accepted students who are six, seven, eight years of age because of their advancement on their instrument,” he said. “If a 4-year-old could play and read, we wouldn’t turn them down.”
Yet, before they reach this point, students must undergo a rigorous audition process.
“Students who audition show at least a certain level of proficiency,” Parker said.
Afterward, accepted students are ranked based on their skill level, and then placed into ensembles accordingly.
Huxsoll said that some parents are preparing during the summer to schedule their child’s audition in September.
“We have 200 people some years [who] audition,” Huxsoll said. “I think because of [the program’s] high reputation, most people come to audition and know what’s expected.”
Part of the allure and reputation of the Center for Gifted Young Musicians may be due to the success that some members have experienced. Parker noted that two 12- and 16-year-old cellists in the program were recently invited to play with the Philadelphia Orchestra.
One group of students performed on the radio for NPR’s “From the Top,” a program for promising musicians featured the Music Prep Honors string quartet comprised of four 14- to 17-year-old members in the program playing Franz Schubert’s String Quartet No. 14, “Death of a Maiden,” in D minor.
One alumnus of the program, classical violinist and Philadelphia native Sarah Chang, has been recognized internationally. Chang was one of the first students to come to the program at the age of six when it first started in 1986.
Described by “Newsweek” as a “violin prodigy,” and selected for its “Women and Leadership, 20 Powerful Women Take Charge” feature in 2006, Chang has received much recognition.
According to the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra website, she plans to do a worldwide tour that includes Norway, Romania, Austria, Canada, Poland and Denmark. Chang has played with artists including Yo Yo Ma, Wolfgang Sawallisch and the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra.
Parker said that after working with the program for more than 20 years, he enjoys the fact that he plays with some of those he has coached.
“It’s been fascinating for me,” Parker said. “I’m now performing and teaching with some of the kids that used to be students.”
Parker said he believes that the students in the Center for Gifted Young Musicians receive valuable lessons in addition to just music knowledge.
“Talented kids from all over the area can collaborate with like-minded talent, which challenges them to become better.” Parker said. “Since a number of our students are also home-schooled, it gives the students the opportunity to interact with others their age.”
The students in the Center for Gifted Young Musicians will be showcasing those talents next month from May 4 to 12 in the Festival of Young Musicians taking place at Rock Hall and the Church of the Holy Trinity in Rittenhouse Square. The festival is a concert series with recitals from the ensembles that make up the center and solo performances by some of the students.
Anthony May can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.