Alabama Symphony Youth Orchestra’s Kevin Fitzgerald wants you to come to a free concert Nov. 16. 5 reasons why.

Kevin Fitzgerald of the ASYO with a musical score
Just like writers read for fun, conductors read musical scores in their spare time. Here’s Kevin with his favorite Mahler score at Revelator Coffee on a rainy Thursday. Photo by Sharron Swain for Bham Now

The Alabama Symphony Youth Orchestra (ASYO), conducted by Kevin Fitzgerald, is getting ready for their opening show on Saturday, November 16 at 2PM at the Alys Stephens Center and we’re all invited.

The theme is Russian Classics, and the free show lasts less than one hour. Kevin and I sat down last week and talked about why this show is a must-see for young music lovers and their families. Read on for all the details.

1. For young musicians who aspire to greater things, the ASYO is an amazing opportunity.

Kevin Fitzgerald conducting with the ASYO
Kevin Fitzgerald in action with the ASYO. Photo supplied

I didn’t realize until Kevin and I started talking that youth symphonies are a major part of orchestras like the Alabama Symphony Orchestra (ASO). People from the two organizations are close in all kinds of ways:

  • By proximity and by association, ASYO members are inspired by the Alabama Symphony Orchestra.
  • ASYO members hear all about what the ASO is doing, which helps them feel like part of the action.
  • AYSO members work with ASO members in sectionals to build their orchestra skills.
  • 2/3 of ASYO members take music lessons from ASO musicians.
  • ASYO musicians receive free admission to most ASO performances.
  • ASYO concerts get family and friends into the concert hall.
  • Just like college football has youth football, major symphonies have youth orchestras as part of the talent development pipeline.
  • Students from six Alabama counties participate in the ASYO.
  • Rehearsals are once a week on Sunday afternoons.

2. Greater Birmingham Music Education Alliance (GBMEA) helps provide string-based music education.

Strings with the ASYO
Because most school-based music education is in the form of bands, strings are in high demand for the Alabama Symphony Youth Orchestra. Photo supplied

Here in Alabama, most of our school-based music education comes in the form of bands. Marching bands, symphonic bands, jazz bands, all-state bands . . . we’ve got ’em all.

What we don’t have, though, is many opportunities for in-school string-based music education. What this means for the ASYO is that instead of two youth orchestras (think junior varsity and varsity, if you like), we’ve got one that ranges from ages 12-22.

Oboe players in the Alabama Symphony Youth Orchestra
Young oboe players at an ASYO rehearsal. Photo supplied

What does this have to do with strings? While the ASYO has many brass, woodwind and percussion players to choose from, string players are few and far between. While there are many violinists, there are very few violists and bass players.

To help remedy this, the Greater Birmingham Music Education Alliance (GBMEA) is a coalition of outside-of-school string and orchestra-oriented music programs.

3. Playing in the ASYO can open the door to college scholarships.

All about that bass . . . at the ASYO
I’m all about that bass. Photo supplied

Viola and bass players are in really high demand. Here’s why Kevin—who has a way with words—says these instruments matter:

  • When you look at a house, you notice the color and the fancy decorations. But without the foundation, there’s nothing for it to stand on. The bass is the sonic foundation of the whole ensemble.
  • Without the viola (which is basically like a deeper, mellower violin), you have the donut without the filling. It provides that special sad note, that middle note in the chord. It’s a great instrument that gives so much feeling to a piece.

What this means for young people who pursue these instruments at a high level of skill, performance and knowledge is this:

  • Orchestral opportunities in middle school, high school and college
  • All-state opportunities
  • Scholarship opportunities (including for non-music majors)

4. The all-Russian program means the audience will see young people playing beautiful music really well.

Kevin Fitzgerald's Mahler score workup
This is how a conductor works up a score. I thought it was pretty cool. Photo by Sharron Swain for Bham Now
  • What: Russian classics, Alabama Symphony Youth Orchestra opening concert
  • When: Saturday, November 16, 2PM
  • Where: Alys Stephens Center
  • Cost: free

This is a great show for parents and families with kids of all ages. Here are some of the highlights:

  • It’s a cohesive set of three Russian composers: Shostakovich, Tchaikovsky and Stravinsky.
  • All the musicians are young people, so any budding musicians can be inspired by watching people their own age play really well.
  • The show lasts less than one hour.
  • Kevin stops and talks to about the music during the performance so it’s easy to understand.
  • The relaxed environment is friendly and welcoming even for very young children whose families might not otherwise get to see a symphony performance.

5. ASYO conductor Kevin Fitzgerald first tried playing music when he was in 6th grade, and then he found a lifelong passion. This could happen to any young person.

Kevin conducting ASYO
Kevin conducting the ASYO at Mountain Brook Junior High School. Photo supplied

Kevin Fitzgerald was born in Ann Arbor, Michigan to a working-class family that wasn’t into music. Now he’s the assistant conductor of the Alabama Symphony Orchestra and the music director for the Alabama Symphony Youth Orchestra.

He began conducting when he was 16. Now, at age 28, he’s the youngest member of the Alabama Symphony Orchestra conducting staff.

Here’s what he says students learn from studying music:

  • Coordination
  • Commitment and consistency
  • Accountability
  • How to show up and work, even when you don’t feel like it

He also says it’s a total brain workout and a great way to train yourself to think critically.

While people who are just getting started in music need to reach a specific level before they can join ASYO, GBMEA has tons of other groups people can join to help them begin.

If you have a young person you’d like to get involved with music, check out ASYO’s FAQs first, then reach out to Erin O’Brien, ASYO’s Education Operations Manager at 205.314.6955 or

The Russian classics show is free and open to the public.

Sharron Swain
Sharron Swain

Writer, Interviewer + Adventurer | Telling stories to make a difference

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