By James BrabenecNovember 29, 2018
FORT SILL, Okla., Nov. 29, 2018 -- When Lionella and Sgt. 1st Class Ray Hyland III talk about their children, words like proud, love, and support frequent their conversation. Take Raegan, their 14-year-old daughter, who recently faced the choice of high school sports or exercising her artistic flair. In this case, art won out as Raegan, an aspiring violinist, auditioned for and was accepted into Oklahoma Youth Orchestras.
Raegan took up the instrument in fifth grade when her father was stationed at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash. At a school function that acquainted students with the various musical instruments they could play, she became entranced by the violin while hearing her music teacher playing it in a small group.
"I think I just liked the way that it sounded," she said. "It just sounded beautiful and made me fall in love with it."
That passion grew, in part, due to a practice routine that consisted of 30 minutes a day during the school week and longer practices on weekends.
Returning to Fort Sill nearly three years ago for Raymond's third tour here, the Hylands set up housekeeping in Fletcher with Raegan attending school in Elgin. This presented a slight complication as the school didn't offer an orchestra program.
"I tried to get Raegan to choose another instrument when we came here, but she wanted to stick with the violin, so we've had to create opportunities for her," said Lionella, a military pay technician here.
Coming home from work, Lionella said Raegan often practices in her room with the door open.
"I have to ask her to close her door as I can't focus on being a mom and doing what I need to do, because her music stops me in my tracks," said Lionella. ""It always brings me to tears every time I hear her play."
With the school's music program no longer an option, Lionella arranged for weekly lessons with Phillips Music in Lawton. While there Raegan played occasional small group or solo recitals.
"After a couple years with Phillips, I felt like Raegan's skill had outgrown what they could offer her," said Lionella, who began a search of the Internet for other private instructors or programs. "That's when I found Oklahoma Youth Orchestras (OYO), and I'm so happy I did."
Founded in 1977, OYO provides advanced orchestral education and performance opportunities for talented Oklahoma student musicians. Since its inception, the organization has grown to include 12 ensembles and over 400 students. Guided by expert music educators and conductors, OYO orchestras have performed before audiences in China, Germany, New Zealand, Mexico, Italy, Scotland, and many more countries.
John Clinton, a former full-time OYO conductor, spoke of how good OYO ensembles are.
"From the early 1990s to what we hear today, the quality of the orchestras and the quality of the student musicians have improved vastly," said Clinton, a retired dean of the College of Arts, Media & Design at the University of Central Oklahoma. He added that quality is on par with many collegiate orchestras.
Recalling hearing what her mom found online, giggles of joy interspersed Raegan's enthusiastic words.
"I was extremely excited and thought this sounds so cool!" she said. Looking through the information on the OYO website, Raegan didn't consider the logistics of rehearsals and concerts in Oklahoma City. "I was more focused on the program itself and figuring out the steps I would need to be prepared to audition."
Ordinarily, students tryout for OYO in May. However, despite missing the primary auditions, Lionella called and found out OYO still had openings. When that day came, Ray took leave from his duties as the first sergeant of B Battery, 1st Battalion, 30th Field Artillery.
"Wherever our children show an interest we generally try to support it. But then we saw she had a heart for violin, and she was good," he said. "To see her play in front of the judge, I was very proud of her."
Raegan passed her audition and became a member of Philharmonia, one of OYO's all-string ensembles.
"We try to create spaces for young musicians at all levels, especially for string players," said Caleb Mitchum, OYO program manager. "We have three all-string orchestras designed to address students at all levels."
Mitchum said tickets for performances are inexpensive, as the intent of each concert is to give the musicians the experience of playing before large audiences. Along with that, the low cost may attract audiences who haven't attended a classical music concert before. Also, music educators and their families can get in free.
"We love to have them there supporting their students and ours," he said.
Addressing the weekly trips to Oklahoma City for rehearsal, Lionella said, "It's exhausting but worth it. She was there for her first two practices, and already she felt challenged, which is great because she's learned so much."
Raegan first performed Nov. 4 at Oklahoma City University. Lionella's sisters and mother, who moved to Oklahoma in recent years, all attended the concert.
"It made me happy my family was there and helped me to prepare to play with more confidence," said Raegan.
Although he couldn't attend the concert, Ray spoke with his daughter afterward.
"Talking to her on the phone and hearing the excitement in her voice made it well worth the investment," he said.
Lionella said her emotions poured forth again: "It brought me to tears again -- that's my baby being able to do that."
While the family enjoys listening to a variety of music, Lionella said no one else plays an instrument.
"This is something that she can do, and it's hers, and it makes her feel good," she said. "For me, as long as she's happy, whether she plays for just a year or earns a college scholarship, it doesn't matter."
Clinton said some former OYO musicians are playing professionally, such as cellist Joshua Roman, an easy find on YouTube or Ted Talks. Other OYO musicians have gone on to play in the Oklahoma City Philharmonic Orchestra and other orchestras around the country. Another former member played with Beyonce's accompanying orchestra.
"I could see myself in that situation," said Raegan. "It would be so cool to be one of those people in the background playing my violin."
Mitchum said OYO hopes to announce next year's rehearsal dates in December. That information, along with a concert schedule and more, can be found at www.oyomusic.org.
Families interested in auditions may also email Mitchum at email@example.com.