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Meredith Crifasi plays the violin with the Sangamon Valley Youth Symphony.
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Noteworthy future
By Janet Seitz Carlson

Life can be like a symphony. A series of movements builds toward a finale. Circumstances are instruments of change.

When Sangamon Valley Youth Symphony Music Director Richard Haglund came to Springfield seven years ago, the youth orchestra had about 60 musicians. To cultivate future musicians, he started the Starter String program at Farmingdale Elementary School. The program is now in nine schools.

"It was amazing to lead a starter string class in the morning and then conduct the Illinois Symphony that same day," says Haglund, who is also the Illinois Symphony Orchestra's assistant conductor and librarian and Chicago's Erato Chamber Orchestra music director.

SVYS now serves about 360 people in six ability-based ensembles, including the 2-year-old adult Community Orchestra. Those involved range from kindergarten to age 80. "Music keeps you young for life," Haglund says. "I once had a community orchestra member that played bassoon almost until the day he died at age 95."

For some, music is a lifeline.

Bright-eyed Meredith Crifasi, 9, has a sparkling smile and an optimistic attitude. She also has an immune deficiency disorder requiring daily treatment to protect her. (hypogammaglobulinemia with functional antibody deficiency, for the medically curious.)

There is one factor for which she has no resistance: music.

"Music has been a blessing in disguise," says Meredith's mother, Michelle, also afflicted with immune deficiencies. "She can't do outdoor sports because of all the allergens, runny nose and risk of infections." Playing violin with the SVYS provides Meredith "a whole other dimension."

"It drives home the message that music is a universal language," Michelle explains. "There are exchange students playing in the orchestra. There are age differences. They are dependent on their stand partner. It brings it all together like a team sport. What I love is that it's made her aware of the world around her ... It's given her an appreciation of people's differences."

Meredith got the "bug" for music at age 4 while watching a Barbie video, after which she told her parents she wanted to play violin for ballerinas. Today she does, often for her ballet-student friend Kayla, and performs for many other audiences. Meredith also studies piano.

With Meredith's early violin lessons, she auditioned for SVYS in 2006 in first grade, at age 6, and was placed in the SVYS Preparatory Orchestra, first violins. Now in fourth grade, she is in the Concert Orchestra, first violins.

Auditions primarily take place each fall, placing 100-130 youth. A concerto competition enables eight to nine SVYS students to perform with the Illinois Symphony Orchestra.

 "Playing instruments has really taught Meredith good time-management skills and that hard work truly does pay off. She has a never-give-up attitude." The straight-A Rochester Middle School student gets a good dose of encouragement from her parents, Michelle and Joe, from her violin and piano teachers, from Haglund and more.

"Music is important to me," says Meredith. "It opens people's hearts. It's really fun. It relieves my stress. When I'm sad, it makes me feel really happy."

Her mother adds, "Meredith's life has been challenged with some health issues, but she always says, 'When God challenges you, he gives you a gift in return. He gave me music.'"

Meredith's parents know about challenges and gifts. In 1992, Joe was suddenly faced with a rare cancer and told he had one month to live. The odds were against a cure. An aggressive and grueling treatment enabled him to survive. The couple was told they likely would never have children. Then came Meredith. "When we were finally blessed to have a child, we wondered what plans God had for Meredith. We certainly did not expect music to be a part of that path since no one in our family is musically gifted. Music has just made her life and our life more complete."

For Meredith and others, "The rehearsal process is where growing occurs," Haglund says. "It's fun to see those lights go on in the progression from first rehearsal reading to concert. They're very bright, active. Music has helped them in many respects."

SVYS participants practice weekly, preparing for two annual concerts and other performances. Haglund and musicians are in action Monday through Wednesday nights at the Hoogland Center for the Arts, seemingly taking over the building. "Often sectional coaches will come and work with just the cellos or just a section of violins. During these times you can hear music resonating from the lobby, board rooms, offices and the basement where the ensembles regularly perform. The Community Orchestra is over 65 people, and the energy and enthusiasm for music is amazing on Wednesday evenings.

"Great teachers, private instructors, administrational help, wonderful board of directors, parent volunteers, support of individuals and corporations make the SVYS family. It takes a village, and I am so proud I can help provide music to the community as a lifelong activity."


Story published Friday, December 4, 2009 ( Volume 4, Number 7 )

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