By Jonathan Farrell
The Sunset Youth Orchestra (SYO) has come a long way since its founding two decades ago. From its humble beginnings, it has performed throughout the Bay Area and even made it to the stage at Carnegie Hall in New York City, the dream of countless performers and musicians.
The orchestra’s founder and director, Tatiana Ganenko, has led the group every step of the way.
“At present, we are preparing for our 20th anniversary celebration concert at the War Memorial Building on Dec. 15,” Ganenko said. “I can’t believe it! Twenty years! Time moved so fast.”
Ganenko came to the United States from Russia knowing little English, but she had a great love of music.
“I was here just in time for the 1989 earthquake,” Ganenko said. It was while tutoring just a few students individually that she realized there was a need for a new orchestra.
“The violin section usually leads in an orchestra,” Ganenko said. “Two of my violin and French horn students told me about their experience while in music class at one of the local schools. They said that they didn’t sound good at all and they did not enjoy playing in the same voice with five saxophone players with music from ‘The Godfather.’
“I am guessing that they needed special arrangements,” Ganenko said. “Kids get bored quickly when having to play the same music over and over and there’s too much repetition.”
“After my 16 years of musical education in Russia where you must know music theory, harmony, orchestra scores and arrangements, I thought I could help them to create a new children’s orchestra. At the beginning there were only 16 young musicians and one singer. Now there are 64 members,” she said.
Ganenko uses the Suzuki Method, an internationally known music curriculum and teaching philosophy dating from the mid-20th century, created by Japanese violinist and pedagogue, Shinichi Suzuki. The method aims to create an environment for learning music which parallels the linguistic environment of acquiring a native language.
Ganenko, from the very first day, simply has the student play music. They get the whole picture of the orchestra and the music, not just one instrument, one song, practicing over and over.
She starts a student on simple arrangements but moves to more pieces so the student is challenged and encouraged at the same time. Enthusiasm is essential.
“I push them little by little. I give them interesting pieces, concertos as well as contemporary songs they love,” Ganenko said.
“I just envision where every child could be accepted and learn different styles of music at their own levels. I offered the parents a new orchestra with balanced strings, woodwinds, brass sections and drums,” she said.
With help from the Osher Foundation and donations from parents, the SYO was created. They performed their first concert in December of 1999.
“During all 20 years,” Ganenko said, “the SYO has performed at various venues for different audiences: schools; the Russian Cultural Center; for the elderly at places like Arden Wood; at local venues like St. John’s Church; the de Young Museum; at Sunset community youth festivals; Yerba Buena Garden and at many San Francisco youth festivals.”
Some of her students have gone on to prestigious schools of music, like Juilliard in New York. No matter how many accolades and awards they earn, Ganenko insists that love of the music and helping the students come first.
“I enjoy this work and I am so pleased when I see how the parents are amazed at what their child can do with music,” she said.
Ganenko is very grateful to her fellow teachers. All money raised goes into teaching. There are minimal administrative costs. She wants SYO to remain affordable and accessible. Auditions are ongoing. They get new students through word-of-mouth.
“The orchestra manager Ronica Lee has been a great help to me,” Ganenko said. “Without her help, these last six years would not have been possible for me to handle the responsibilities of the SYO all by myself.
“Music not only gives students skills and helps develop talent, music also gives kids access to the world,” Ganenko said.
SYO is planning to perform in Italy in 2020 and it is in need donations to help pay for the trip and will accept new students for its Italian performance and tour.
To learn more about Sunset Youth Orchestra visit http://www.sunsetyouthorchestra.com or call (415) 242-9057.