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BWW Interview: Helen Cha-Pyo & NEW JERSEY YOUTH SYMPHONY on 5/19 at NJPAC

BWW Interview: Helen Cha-Pyo & NEW JERSEY YOUTH SYMPHONY on 5/19 at NJPAC

The New Jersey Youth Symphony (NJYS) will honor its 40th Anniversary with a celebratory concert at New Jersey Performing Arts Center (NJPAC) in Newark on Sunday, May 19 at 3:00 p.m. The orchestra's Artistic Director, Helen Cha-Pyo will showcase the youth symphony's extensive talent in a program that feature's Carl Orff's Carmina Burana as the orchestra is joined by guest soloists and choruses from the Newark Boys Chorus, J.P. Stevens High School, Newark Academy, New Providence High School, Ridge High School, and Somerville High School.

Before joining NJYS and the Wharton Institute for the Performing Arts, Ms. Cha-Pyo was the Music Director and Conductor for the Empire State Youth Orchestra (ESYO) based in Albany, New York. While there she won three prestigious ASCAP Awards, and led the orchestra in performances around the world, performing in outstanding concert halls such as Carnegie Hall, Ozawa Hall and EMPAC. Because of her impact on so many young musicians, ESYO established the Helen Cha-Pyo Golden Baton Award and Scholarship, for students who embody her passionate commitment to music as a means to enrich their community.

Born in South Korea, Ms. Cha-Pyo immigrated to the US when she was 12, studying piano and organ in the Julliard School Pre-College Program. She holds degrees from Oberlin Conservatory and the Eastman School of Music. In addition, she won conducting fellowships at the Aspen Festival and the Yale School of Music.

She is a frequent guest conductor and clinician for All-State and Regional Festival Orchestras throughout the country and this summer will be conducting at Vermont's Kinhaven School and at the Ithaca College Summer Music Academy.

Broadwayworld had the opportunity to interview Helen Cha-Pyo about her career and the upcoming concert at NJPAC.

What was your earliest interest in music?

I grew up singing all the time, thanks to my parents who were amateur musicians. I was a member of the Korean Broadcast System Children's Choir and was on Live TV several days a week during my elementary school years in Seoul, Korea. I started playing the piano and living a life of a competitive young pianist in the competition circuit until I was twelve years old then immigrated to America and continued my training at the Juilliard School Pre-College.

Can you tell us about a few musicians that have inspired your career?

I have so many to name but I must start with my high school music teachers: Willard McNary, Bob Shaut, Sheila Fiumarello- They lived and breathed music every day and demonstrated the transformative power of music in making a positive impact in young people's lives. I also look to great artists like Yo-Yo Ma for using music as a bridge to connect people, communities, nations all around the world.

We'd love to know a little bit about your musical education.

Julliard Pre-College (organ performance)

Oberlin College and Conservatory, BM in organ performance

Eastman School of Music, MM in conducting and organ performance

What advice do you have for young aspiring musicians?

Practice your craft every day - but do it with a clear goal in mind every time you practice. It's not always about how many hours you practice. It's really about practicing smart.

Dig deeper and make real connections between the music you are playing and you as a person - Think beyond 'what' and 'when' of the music and more 'why' and 'how'.

Tell us about some of the challenges of your work as Artistic Director and Conductor of NJYS.

As Artistic Director and Conductor, there are lots of behind-the-scenes work which requires creativity. My creativity needs lots of quiet time not only to create an artistic vision for the organization but also to do my personal study of the music I'm conducting. Between meetings, emails, rehearsals and concerts, I have to be creative in finding that quiet space in my daily life.

Why do you find your work with NJYS so rewarding?

It is all about meaningful relationships and connections we are able to make at NJYS that makes it so rewarding. It is thrilling to witness life-long friendships develop and communities built through engaging each other in high-level music-making. I love working with talented and dedicated young musicians and inspiring them to dwell in their infinite possibility through music. In the process, they inspire me to be my very best.

Can you give us a little preview of the upcoming NJYS show at NJPAC?

I anticipate this concert to be what post-Millennials would call an 'epic event!' When nearly 500 high school musicians from 13 different counties of NJ take the stage at NJPAC to perform Carmina Burana by Carl Orff, it is truly an extravaganza! I am also thrilled to present a 145-member Festival String Orchestra of our elementary and middle school-age string players assembled just for this concert. Also joined by Newark Boys Chorus and the Paterson Music Project Chorus, the Festival String Orchestra will give a world premiere performance of "Three Poems of Langston Hughes" by Jack Bender, a newly commissioned work to commemorate the New Jersey Youth Symphony's 40th Anniversary celebration.

Can you share any of your future plans with our readers?

We have many exciting future plans but I am most excited about our upcoming tour to Italy in the summer of 2020. The flagship ensemble, Youth Symphony, will travel through Italy and give performances in Milan, Florence, Rome and Albano. This will be a life-changing experience for our young musicians!

You can learn more about New Jersey Youth Symphony at Follow them on Instagram: #newjerseyyouthsymphony and on Facebook: @NewJerseyYouthSymphony.

To learn more about the NJYS concert at NJPAC and to purchase tickets, please visit

Photo Credit: Courtesy of Helen Cha-Pyo

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