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Playing with a youth national orchestra

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Many young musicians dream of an opportunity to work with professional musicians or to perform on a big stage. Harpist Olivia Tilley of Springfield has accomplished just that.

After auditioning for and being accepted to the National Symphony Orchestra (NSO) Youth Fellowship Program in 2020, she has worked with the principal harpist for the NSO, Adriana Horne, and has attended rehearsals, concerts, master classes and discussions with professionals.

“This experience has been so incredible and I am very grateful to be a part of it,” said Tilley, a junior at Saint John Paul the Great Catholic High School in Potomac Shores. “The workshops have helped me to be better prepared for concerts and auditions, and has given me insight to all the different careers you can have as a classical musician. Being in this program has opened me up to so many great opportunities.”

Although the COVID-19 pandemic has affected musicians worldwide, Tilley has adapted and gotten the most out of her opportunities. As a virtual student during the 2020-21 school year, she was a key part of the pit orchestra for the school’s spring musical. She learned her parts at home and seamlessly joined her fellow musicians in person a few weeks before the show. Similarly, she applied virtually to the NSO’s Youth Fellowship Program, which included submitting an application, a letter of recommendation, a personal statement and a performance video of the piece “Priere” by Alphonse Hasselmans. From a pool of talented high schoolers, she was one of the few selected and is now in her second year with the program. 

“Olivia is a super talented and devoted student,” said Kelly Kingett, music director at John Paul the Great. “She is the epitome of discipline and her acceptance and participation in the National Symphony Orchestra’s Youth Program is a beautiful example of how all of that hard work pays off.”

Tilley attributes some of her growth as a musician to the music classes at John Paul the Great.

“The music theory courses better informed the way I look at and approach the music I listen to and play,” she said. “It has helped me to continue to mature as a musician and has given me a deeper understanding of the music I perform.”

Olivia’s participation in the NSO’s program has been an incredible next step in her education as a harpist. Although she has been studying the harp for nine years, she has acquired new skills from this program.

“I have learned so much from my teacher and other educators there,” said Tilley. “I have learned different ways to practice and perform, as well as how different instruments in the orchestra work, which has helped me to better collaborate with others.”

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2022