Music program nurtures young artists’ talents

Published 12:16 pm Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Sounds of warming strings drew me into the concert hall of Indian Springs School Dec. 4 as the Music Opportunity Program prepared for a Youth Symphony Concert.

The concert was a joint project of the Birmingham String Orchestra (BSO), under the direction of Paul Merryman, and Birmingham Prelude Strings, directed by Dr. Rita Salzberg.

Dr. Salzberg was leading a rehearsal of the latter students, grades six through eight, who were in crisp black and white attire, serious-faced, and with few adolescent fidgets.

“Our goal is to teach music. Along the way we watch children grow and develop discipline, cooperation, accept leadership, strive for advancement and so much more,” Salzberg said.

Soon parents and friends filed in, some proudly carrying bouquets of flowers for their budding musicians. The concert hall brimmed with a lively, family-friendly audience, most casually dressed and carrying cameras.

The program opened with BSO children, grades four through six, playing music set to a poem by Robert Frost, “Alpha Beta Alpha,” followed by delightful sounds of several pieces, including one by Haydn.

“This is the hardest-working group I’ve ever had,” said Conductor Paul Merryman.

Birmingham Prelude Strings took the stage with Salzberg conducting. Most memorable of their pieces was “The Legend of Duffy’s Cut,” written to memorialize the mysterious deaths of 100 Irish immigrants who were building a railroad. This tune has winsome Celtic origins, Irish folk music, a jig and a lament, all laced with railway sounds.

The group showed great versatility. Some were very difficult pieces, all performed with finesse.

I closed my eyes, and could have been before a great symphony anywhere in the world.

The two groups made up a symphony of 75 students, the younger wearing red cummerbunds and bow ties.

They ended the concert with a wonderful Christmas medley. The Music Opportunity Program offers string instruction, and directs the Birmingham String Orchestra, Birmingham Prelude Strings and the Alabama Youth Symphony.

Members of AYS are advanced musical students of various string, brass and percussion instruments.

They represent students from schools in the Greater Birmingham area, including Indian Springs, Briarwood Christian and Spain Park high schools.

Membership is by audition. For information call 231-9504 to speak with Jennifer Holcomb, or visit the Web site

Gladys Hodge Sherrer can be reached by e–mail at