Musician Handbook

The Los Angeles Youth Orchestra is a creative environment where young musicians from throughout the Los Angeles area come together to rehearse symphonic music alongside professional musicians. The orchestra presents young musicians with the chance to study established masterworks and the exciting opportunity to premiere new music. Additionally, the orchestra offers a variety of unique enrichment experiences including working with guest artists and mentoring with major orchestras. Students with two years of instrumental experience may audition, regardless of school affiliation. By providing an orchestral experience available to all students, the vision of the Los Angeles Youth Orchestra is to become a musical voice that embraces the entire Los Angeles community.

For ages 8-18 and with intermediate and advanced groups, the Los Angeles Youth Orchestra is open by audition to students of symphonic instruments who have had at least two years of private instruction.

Why We Need You at Every Rehearsal

A note from the Artistic Director, Russell Steinberg

We can permit only a small number of excused absences from rehearsals each semester, and no excused absences are permitted for performances. If you know in advance that you will be unable to attend a rehearsal — for a school trip, a religious observance, a family event, a performance by another group — tell us as soon as you know about it. This will make it possible for us to better plan our rehearsal strategy. Please use the handy little Absence Request Form for this purpose. We’d like to know about such absences at least two weeks in advance.

The potential for our orchestra to sound truly professional is within our grasp if we can minimize absences from rehearsals. We schedule as few rehearsals as we can for each concert that will still allow our orchestra to sound its best. But every student absence simply brings our overall performance down a notch. Here’s why:

  • We have only 10-12 rehearsals. Yes, the LA Philharmonic can do it in four rehearsals, but a youth orchestra needs a minimum of 10-12 rehearsals to master all the notes, intonation, rhythms, tempo changes, balances, and ensemble playing for a concert’s worth of music. Believe me, if we could do it in fewer rehearsals, we would!
  • When players are absent, the conductor makes decisions about balances, rhythms, articulations, and tempo that may be less than optimal because they are based on only part of the orchestra. Imagine planning your month with a calendar that has missing days! Your schedule would be off. That’s how it is rehearsing a piece without the entire orchestra.
  • Myth of “Coming Together At the End” I often hear parents exclaim at the concert how everything just miraculously “came together” at the end and worked out ok. Yes, to non-musicians, it does seem that the orchestra suddenly plays better at the concerts. But a careful listener easily detects intonation and ensemble problems in an orchestra where players have missed rehearsals.
  • Ensemble playing that should be tight and in tune sounds ragged and uneven within the sections of the orchestra when players miss rehearsals.
  • During rehearsals, we mark our music with pencils and make literally hundreds of small but important choices. When people miss rehearsals, it isn’t possible to communicate all these changes. At the next rehearsal, we’ll have to repeat the same thing for people who were absent. That wastes everyone else’s time and leaves less time to rehearse. But even worse, often we don’t have a chance to repeat much of the information and then people who are absent are playing the wrong fingerings, dynamics, bowings, etc.
  • Learning is exponential; the muddy beginnings in early rehearsals grow into clear major results by the later rehearsals. If you miss rehearsals, you miss out on this important gradual process. Having to catch up, you may learn the notes, but the music still never fits right or feels natural in your hands. Remember that it is in the beginning frustrating stages that the real learning is taking place. It takes time for your brain to process new ideas and teach your body to perform them. You don’t want to cheat yourself out of these steps.
  • Regular attendance lets us get past the notes to the music itself. That’s the whole purpose of the orchestra — to create expressive music. But if players are absent, then we have to spend our last few rehearsals stressed out trying to just get everyone to play the notes correctly and together.
  • Think of our rehearsals as 12 movements of an entire symphony. To experience the complete work you need to be present for every movement. Ultimately, the concerts and the entire orchestra experience itself mean more to you when you attend every rehearsal. I regularly receive emails from students during summer telling me they miss the orchestra. That lets me know that we are part of something very special. Honor our special orchestra by clearing your calendar of all conflicts on the days we rehearse.

Concert Etiquette

How to dress:
Boys: white button down shirt, no tie, black jacket. Black slacks, black socks, black shoes.
Girls: all black, either NICE pants or dress/skirt ANKLE length or floor length. Sleeves must be to elbows or longer. Black shoes.
NOT ALLOWED: black jeans, black t-shirts, black tennis shoes.

What to bring:
Please remember to bring your instrument, extra reeds, rosin and strings, and cellists and bassists must always bring an end-pin stop. 
BRING YOUR MUSIC, even if you usually use the music of your stand partner.

How to act:
Family members and guests should be asked to arrive in time to park and find their seats. Latecomers will not be admitted until a suitable break in the performance. In keeping with the classical tradition, applause should be held until the end of a multi-movement piece. You might advise members of your party who may not be familiar with classical concert etiquette of this curious custom.

Please remember that we are guests of the places where we perform. You represent our orchestra, and you must keep in mind that they may revoke their permission for us to perform at their facility if we should abuse their trust. This means no running in the halls or loud talking, cleaning up after yourselves and behaving courteously at all times.

How to prepare sheet music for practice and rehearsals

Let’s talk about sheet music. Before each semester starts, you should have received copies of the music from us – the librarian can help you with this. At rehearsals, both Russell and your coaches have things to tell you about the music (that’s why we have rehearsals.) We want you to spend time writing those things (in pencil, please, so it can be changed!) onto your music, during, the rehearsal, so that you’ll remember it. This makes those plastic sheet protectors, though neat and tidy and otherwise spiffy, not a good idea. Instead please punch holes in your music and put it in a binder.

The way pages are placed in the binder is important. Before punching those holes, lay out the first two pages on the table, next to each other the way they would be in the binder. Look at end of the page on the right – are there rests there so that the page can be turned successfully while continuing to play the piece?

  • If so, the holes should probably be punched on the right side of the first page, the left side of the second, and so on.
  • If not, look at the end of the page on the left. If there are rests there, then probably the first page should have its holes punched on the left, the second page on the right, and so on.

Before punching the holes, look at the rest of the piece and make sure you’ll be able to turn pages successfully. Sometimes there just is no way to make those page turns (that’s why you have a stand partner; the player sitting on the inside always turns the pages.) Do your best. Your coach will check to make sure you’ve got it right, and it can be fixed if necessary.

Boy, having done all that, it seems as though you should be done, right? No. We need for you to practice, and practice regularly. Take the music to your teacher for help. Try to do the things that your coach has suggested, and find other places in the music where the same advice might be applicable. And then practice again. Sheesh.

In preparation for each rehearsal:

  • Always check your e-mail during the week and just before coming to rehearsal — this is our best way to tell you things you need to know.
  • Call us if you will be late or are sick — the phone number to call is at the bottom of Sandi’s weekly email. This is very important, as it affects what Dr. Steinberg chooses to work on in the rehearsal.
  • To every rehearsal bring:
    • a music stand marked with your name. You can use masking tape to provide a writing surface on the stand.
    • a pencil, and always have it with you!
    • your own music, even if you have a stand partner. Each of you should be marking your music in sectionals so that you will be prepared to practice at home. Check your music binder before you leave home to insure that you’ve got all your music.

The elements of each rehearsal


For most of you, half of each rehearsal is devoted to sectionals. During this time you will work on the orchestra music with a professional coach who specializes in your instrument type. This is where you concentrate on just your section’s part. It is important to listen to your coach’s suggestions on playing techniques for your instrument. Study their example for the tone quality, rhythm, articulation and intonation for which you should strive. Our professional coaches are one of the things that make our youth orchestra so special — take advantage of it! They welcome your questions about the music and about being a musician. Always treat your coaches with dignity and respect, which you should extend to your fellow ensemblists as well.

Break Time:

Get a snack, usually provided in the rotunda (but no food or drink in the theatre itself of in the sectional rooms, sorry) make friends, use the restroom and move to your next location.

Full-Orchestra Rehearsal:

The other half of the rehearsal is with the full orchestra. Here you will be rehearsing on the stage in the theatre with Dr. Steinberg. During this part of the rehearsal you should be listening to how your part fits in with the rest of the orchestra. It is during this time that Dr. Steinberg will provide his interpretations of the music — the dynamics, tempo and articulation that make our presentation unique. And remember — watch the conductor!

At the end of the Rehearsal:

Please check that you have collected all your belongings. Other groups use this space, and finding things left behind is very difficult — they are frequently gone forever. We are not on-site between rehearsals to go and look for things you’ve left.

The Order of Each Rehearsal

Our usual rehearsal schedule is from 1:15 — 5:00. Here’s the plan:

  • 1:15 Musicians arrive, go either to the theatre or the sectional room, unpack their instruments and set up their music and pencil. Position the stand so that you can see both the music and the conductor or coach — this may mean raising the stand quite high. Tune and then warm up by playing some passages practiced at home
  • 1:25 In the theatre the concertmaster tunes the orchestra by sections: brass, then woodwinds, then strings.
  • 1:30 The conductor or coach makes announcements, names the first piece to be played, and we’re off!
  • 3:05 Break time
  • 3:25 The orchestras switch places, and the rehearsal continues
  • 5:00 The rehearsal ends. Be sure to bring all your things home.

Parents, don’t drop your kids off for orchestra at the last minute. It takes time for musicians to set up, time to tune, and this should not come at the expense of the other kids. We’ve set out a small period of time at the beginning of the rehearsal that is meant for these activities; please allow the kids to use this time rather than arriving later and interfering with the orchestra or sectionals.

What they are:

These are short auditions, occurring several weeks into the season, in which your coach hears everyone in the section play excerpts from one or two of the compositions the orchestra is preparing for the concert. Your coach will let you know exactly which segments will appear in the audition so that you can spend extra time preparing them. Students are then seated within the section according to the needs of the orchestra.

What we look for:

We like to see that you have been practicing your part and listening during rehearsal. We look for musicality in your playing, with good intonation and accurate rhythm. In the case of string section leaders, leadership qualities are considered as important as technique. In a section leader we want someone who sets a good example with his professional attitude in rehearsals. A section leader must also follow the conductor carefully so that the section he leads will contribute its best to the orchestral synthesis.

How to prepare:

Pay special attention to the pieces selected for the seating auditions — they are usually the most difficult on the program. Listen carefully during rehearsals and sectionals for Dr. Steinberg’s instructions and for comments from your coaches, and mark your part. Take the music to your teacher for help. Practice difficult parts of the piece slowly, carefully and in small sections. Don’t be nervous!

An orchestra has its own language and rituals, just like sports. Basically, everything is about coordinating up to a hundred people to all play together! It helps to get familiar with a few of the terms and procedures. Here are some important terms you’ll hear:

  • Articulation: The way players attack a note. This is a big part of rehearsing. Common articulation terms are staccato (short), legato (smooth), and accent, but there are many more.
  • Cue: The conductor’s signal — usually with the left hand — given to a musician to let them know that it is their turn to play.
  • Downbeat: One of the most important signals a conductor gives is drawing the baton straight down. That tells the musicians when a new measure of music begins. It takes students practice to follow the downbeat precisely.
  • Dynamics: The loudness of the music. Much of why music is exciting to hear is because it changes its loudness. But not always uniformly! Often we want one section of instruments to play louder than another, given a kind of three-dimensional quality to music. You’ll hear Italian words spoken for dynamics: forte (loud), piano (soft), mezzo (medium), crescendo (get louder) and decrescendo (get softer).
  • Ictus: This is one of Russell’s favorite words. It’s that point in a conductor’s stroke where the baton seems to bounce off of an invisible barrier, and it marks the exact start of a given beat in the measure, such as the upbeat or downbeat. The location of the other ictus strokes in a measure depends on the meter of the work.
  • Meter: The indication, given at the start of a work (or at any point of change during the course of the work), of the number of beats in each bar. Depending on the tempo, the conductor may indicate a different number of beats than you might guess from that marking, and he might say something like “I’m going to take this section in 2,” so that you know to look for two conducting strokes in each measure.
  • Tempo: The speed of the music, given by the pace of the conductor’s beats. Getting everyone to play at precisely the same speed is tricky and very important to practice with the orchestra. Some Italian words you may hear for tempo are: allegro (fast), adagio (slow), andante (medium walking speed), presto (very fast) and largo (very slow).
  • Upbeat: The final beat in a bar, where the conductor draws the baton up.

Why are there two orchestras instead of one?

For some of our concert pieces all the students play together in one large orchestra, but because of our wide range of ages (8 to 18) and skill levels (2 to 14 years of study) we have found the musical and social experience for all our performers to be better if we divide into two groups. Each group plays challenging repertoire of high quality, and each group has equal time with the conductor and with the coaches. The musical difference is that the Concert Orchestra plays music that is arranged to include a wider range of instruments and skill levels. The Symphony Orchestra plays the same standard repertoire that professional orchestras perform.Why do youth orchestras cost money?You might wonder why we ask openly for donations far in excess of tuition. Sad to say, but most youth orchestras fold after only a few seasons. Tuition pays for a small fraction of the costs of running a youth orchestra. Basically, we assemble the equivalent of a small town of 100 or more people every Sunday for rehearsals. The organization that requires is considerable. We have a staff of professional musicians that includes an excellent coaching staff and our conductor. We depend on our staff to organize everything from auditions to rehearsals to concert venues. Things never go according to plan and our staff is great at problem solving. We have a librarian; you wouldn’t believe how complicated it is to assemble and organize parts for two separate orchestras with dozens of pieces of music. But first we have to search and buy our music! We rent rehearsal space and concert halls and are required to have insurance policies to protect our lessors and our employees. We print posters and programs. We mail materials to students and parents, audiences, teachers, and schools. We pay for concert recordings. We meet continually with schools, teachers, and other organizations like the Los Angeles Philharmonic to discover and pursue the best opportunities for our students. Most of this activity and its associated expenses will remain invisible to you. But when you sit in the theater amazed at how our orchestra has improved, please know that it happens because of all the effort going on underneath. That’s why we ask for your help in fundraising.

Why does the orchestra play two (or more!) performances of the same music? And the second concert is in Pasadena and on a week night – that’s so difficult for us!

Performing really focuses the attention of the performers. Just as attending all of the rehearsals is critical in building a good performance, a first performance provides an incredible springboard for the next one. We are fortunate to have our second performances at Ambassador Auditorium, a wonderful performing space. Most performers will never get the opportunity to play in a place this good, and we get to do it twice a year!

What should I do if another student is bothering my child?

Kids constantly surprise us when they act like kids, and we do want to help all of our young musicians grow into responsible and considerate adults. No child here should feel that acting in a rude fashion is acceptable, or that no help is available if another child is acting inappropriately. Please let us know if there is a problem, and in a timely fashion so that we can remedy things before feelings are irrevocably hurt! The program director is the one to call for any issue like this one.

Whom should I contact about other things?

  • Bonnie is the one to contact about lost music. Find her in the theater just before rehearsals or send a message through “Contact Us”.
  • Russell should be contacted about repertoire, seating placement, or about a decision to leave the orchestra.
  • Your child’s section coach should be approached at rehearsals with technical questions specific to the music your child is playing.
  • The program director is the one to contact about anything else, in particular: if your child is sick and will miss a rehearsal, if you have questions about the time or place of a rehearsal, if you want to place an ad in the concert program or buy concert tickets, if you want to set up an audition, if you want to volunteer with the orchestra or if you want to make a donation.

How do I prepare my sheet music for practice and rehearsals?

Let’s talk about sheet music. Before each semester starts, you should have received copies of the music from us – the librarian can help you with this. At rehearsals, both Russell and your coaches have things to tell you about the music (that’s why we have rehearsals.) We want you to spend time writing those things (in pencil, please, so it can be changed!) onto your music, during, the rehearsal, so that you’ll remember it. This makes those plastic sheet protectors, though neat and tidy and otherwise spiffy, not a good idea. Instead please punch holes in your music and put it in a binder, with the page numbers on side without the holes – this makes it so that the page turns work. Your coach will check to make sure you’ve got it right, and it can be fixed if necessary.

Should I have insurance for my child’s instrument?

We recommend that you do so, especially for fragile instruments like the strings. We need for you to encourage your child to keep track of his instrument and to make sure that it is put somewhere outside of the line of traffic. Especially at the Colburn School there is very little room for instruments and lots of kids acting like kids (good kids, but still kids.)
One source for insurance is the Musical Instrument Insurance Agency, (800) 421-1283.

The orchestra phone number is (310) 571-LAYO.

 You can email the staff using this form, or send mail to:

5160 Van Nuys Blvd. #274, Sherman Oaks, CA 91403