That's a very old joke, but it's become especially true at the South Pasadena Strings Program, an 11-year-old school for children that has delivered its student symphony orchestra to the esteemed concert hall years ahead of most who dream of playing there. The school is raising funds for its planned return trip to the hall, with a Feb. 3 benefit performance led by L.A. Philharmonic cellist Tao Ni at the Japan America Theatre in Little Tokyo.
The school's two ensembles — the Los Angeles Children's Orchestra and L.A. Children's Chamber Orchestra — are invited to perform and compete in April. It will be South Pasadena Strings' third visit to the New York International Music Festival. In 2009, the school's orchestra was the youngest ever to appear there, with ages between 5 and 11. Though competing that year against high school groups, it was awarded that year's top “gold” prize.
“It's very exciting, even though they're very little and they don't know what Carnegie is,” says Cathy Perlmutter, school spokeswoman, and the mother of two former students. “They go to New York and get all dressed up. There is pressure but it's fun. And they take such pride in it. It's a huge deal for these children.”
The school was founded by Susan Pascale, a onetime symphonic violinist, who moved from New York to the West Coast and searched for an orchestra program to enroll her young daughter. She realized there wasn't one in her area, so she created one with the South Pasadena School District. Pascale's school is now privately owned.
“Out here strings programs are very few and far between,” says Pascale. “I never dreamed I would build this program. It turned out there was a need for it.”
Her daughter was one of the first students, and is today a 19-year-old violist studying at Juilliard. At the school, Pascale and her teachers (including Ni) show kids how to read music, camaraderie and just sitting still. Lessons and rehearsals for elementary and middle school kids are held at the Calvary Presbyterian Church.
Piano students begin as early as 31/2 years old, and 4 for violin. “We start the kids really young,” says Pascale. “If you don't start young, it's very difficult to achieve a very high level. Each year I did the program, I kept getting younger and younger kids. That's how you get kids to Carnegie.”
With the fundraising concert, the school will help send more than 60 children and their parents to New York, where the orchestras will perform at Carnegie and on the band shell in Central Park. It will be a major event in the lives of the kids and their extended families.
“The relatives come from all over the world,” Pascale says. “We have parents flying in from Taiwan, Israel, all over. That's fun.”
The concert will feature a variety of faculty from the school, and Pascale's 10-year-old daughter, Jenna, will duet on cello with Ni. Other students will also perform, and all will be in tuxes or other formal wear, a regular feature of performances by Pascale's school.
“She's changed our family's life for the good forever,” says Perlmutter. “There is no way our children would have had such a deep music education without her.”
When: Feb. 3, 2 p.m.
Where: Japan America Theatre, 244 S. San Pedro St., Los Angeles
More info: (626) 403-4611, stringsprogram.com