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Sounds of Success

McHenry County Music Center has evolved to become one of the most prestigious centers for learning music in Illinois.

In terms of musical history and education in the county, McHenry County Music Center (MCMC) has risen to the top. In 1980, after the string orchestra was removed from all Crystal Lake schools, Marie Ann Vos still wanted a place where her sons could practice their music. So she started teaching them after school in her basement.

“That was the first Prelude Orchestra,” said Cathy Ames, executive director of the music center.

The center has since evolved into one of the most prestigious centers for learning music in Illinois. The McHenry County Youth Orchestra (MCYO) features three orchestras of various degrees of skill.

The Prelude Orchestra is for beginners and Intermezzo Orchestra is the next step up. It is predominantly made up of middle school and high school students. The third and most advanced is the Symphony Orchestra, where students play standard orchestral literature as arranged by the original composer.

The center also features a music academy where students can take private lessons from experienced instructors. Private lessons are an essential tool to becoming a great musician, Ames said. “Almost 100 percent of the best musicians have had private lessons,” Ames said. “The academy focuses a lot on learning to read music and technique.”

According to the center’s website, there are 15 instructors teaching six different instruments and one instructor giving voice lessons.

Home at the Dole  
During the 2004-05 season the center was looking for a place to hold rehearsals for the youth orchestra. It kept moving from school to school before finding a home at the Lakeside Legacy Arts Park in Crystal Lake (Dole Mansion).

“We rented the space we are in now for the rest of the season and that led to negotiations to actually lease space,” Ames said.

Ames, who has been with the center since 2005, said students from surrounding counties attend the music center every school year. Auditions are held every summer for returning

students and new students looking to join the Intermezzo or Symphony Orchestra. “We had four full auditions this year,” Ames said. “Around 27 new students auditioned, which is actually really good.”

Life-Changing Experience
A testament to the center’s success is the returning students year after year, including 15-year-old Elisha Vanden Bussche. She attended the MCMC, playing the violin, before she even started school.

“I’ve been taking private lessons at the music center for about 11-and-a-half years,” Vanden Bussche said. “I really wanted to do it because I’ve heard a lot of classical music and my parents looked around and found the music center was a really good option. They had a good program for young string players.”

Having been around music most of her life, it is safe to say music has helped shape who she is as a person. “It’s pretty much changed my life,” Vanden Bussche said. “All my closest friends are in MCYO.”

Ames said playing an instrument goes beyond reading music or playing in an orchestra, but also helps students in the classroom. “There’s scientific evidence that kids who participate in music playing an instrument, their academic scores, especially in math and science, go way up,” Ames said. “When you’re playing an instrument and reading music you are using both sides of your brain so you develop neural paths to both sides and they can become better academic students.”

Vanden Bussche will be a junior this fall at H.D. Jacobs High School in Algonquin and said she plans on using what she’s learned from the center even after high school, something Ames said is common among those who have attended MCMC.

“We have 60 to 70 percent of our kids go into music after high school, either as a minor or major in some aspect,” Ames said. “Some go into music therapy; some are going into music performance or music education.”

Big Milestone
Last summer the center celebrated its 30th anniversary with three main concerts held at Raue Center (26 N. Williams St.). The first concert featured well-known violinist Rachel Barton Pine, Ames said. The second featured a side-by-side concert with members of the youth orchestra and the Chicago Brass Band. The final concert was a return of alumni night. “We had around 40 alumni return,” Ames said. “It was a pretty special night.”

This fall the orchestra is taking part in a workshop along with Barrage, an international group of violin, guitar and drum players, at Barrington High School. “We’ll also be playing a couple of pieces with Barrage during a concert at the high school on October 7,” Ames said.

The center is preparing and planning to take a trip to Italy next summer. “We go on tour every other year,” Ames said.  “Last summer went to Spain.  Two years before that we went to Italy.”

Ames said going on tour is a rich experience for the students and differs from trips students take with school clubs. “Nowadays the Spanish clubs are going to Spain, French clubs are going to France, so they’re doing the international trips [that] they weren’t doing before,” Ames said. “Even when we started doing this back in 2005 it wasn’t as prevalent as it is now.

The difference is not only are we getting to tour the places, we are also performing.”

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