Young talent: Local orchestra develops skills, friendships

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The UW-Rock County Youth Orchestra integrates band and string instruments to create a unique sound. The group has several members from Beloit, including (from left): Dakota Vaughn, Pat Forbeck, Tony Fair, Brooke Strickert, Saul Parente, Nishani Patel, Rebekah Tropp and Eiley Murphy.

JANESVILLE — They know Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart just as well as they do John Williams.

After all, the kids involved in the UW-Rock County Youth Orchestra play a vast repertoire of classical and contemporary music.

The group meets every Thursday night, September through May. The public invited to see the 34 young musicians’ hard work showcased during their spring concert in the UW-Rock County Auditorium at 7 p.m. on May 5. The show will last approximately 45 minutes and admission is free.

“The arts are important for kids, because education is not just about reading, writing and arithmetic,” said youth orchestra conductor Jean Dickinson.

The UW-Rock County Youth Orchestra, established 13 years ago, is open to students in elementary school through high school. There are no tryouts. Instead, all students who are interested in the program and have played a band or string instrument for at least two years are welcome to join. The kids are given proper placement based on their skill set.

“We’re like a little family, because kids come back to participate year after year,” Dickinson said.

Youth orchestra members come from Beloit, Clinton, South Beloit, Roscoe, Janesville and beyond. All are committed to improving their music skills, and many see the extracurricular activity as an opportunity to mix string and band instruments together in one group. This is something they often don’t experience elsewhere.

“Most programs are either string or band only, but with this one we bring them together,” Dickinson said. “They really sound great.”

Dickinson has been working with the youth orchestra for five years. She has a degree in instrumental music for grades K-12 and gives music lessons at UW-Rock County. She herself is a musician, having started playing violin and viola when she was eight years old. The youngest student in the UW-Rock County Youth Orchestra is only 9.

“These kids are like a part of the family and we have people who come back year after year,” Dickinson said. “We’re always mixing up what we play, because every style is so


Saul Parente, 14, of Beloit, started playing cello in the fourth grade. He has been performing with the UW-Rock County Youth Orchestra for one and a half years.

The Fruzen Intermediate School student said that being around other talented and committed youth musicians has had a positive impact on his own abilities.

“It really helps me being able to hear the others play,” Parente said. “We’re young, but there is a lot of talent.”

Rebekah Tropp, 15, of Beloit, agreed.

Tropp is participating in the youth orchestra for the first time this year. She has been playing the French horn and trumpet since fifth grade, and aspires to become an even stronger musician.

“My brother (Jonah) was a trumpet player, and my uncle did musicals...all of this is kind of a family thing,” Tropp said.

Over the years, Tropp has participated in band at Morgan Elementary School and Aldrich Middle School. She currently plays in concert band and with the ‘Jazz 2’ band at Beloit Memorial High School (BMHS).

Tropp said she hopes that having extra practice time with the UW-Rock County Youth Orchestra will help her to become familiar with more music styles, and ultimately help with earning a spot on the top tier jazz band at BMHS.

“I want to be a part of that band so bad because they are just so good,” she said.

Brooke Strickert, 17, of Beloit, participates in orchestra at Parker High School in Janesville. She has been playing violin since fifth grade and hopes to someday participate in college orchestra. Her goal is to become an orchestra teacher.

“I want to influence other people to play (an instrument) and share my love of music with them,” she said.

Performing as a part of the youth orchestra offers Strickert a challenge. She said that the orchestra’s string instruments and band instruments must always stay together and sound unified.

“The music sounds so much better having the winds and strings complement each other,” she said. “People would be shocked at how well it all goes together — it’s better than chocolate cake.”

The UW-Rock County Youth Orchestra meets in Wells Cultural Center on the UW-Rock County Campus, 2909 Kellogg Ave., Janesville. Rehearsals are from 7-8:30 p.m. on Thursday evenings, September-May. Although fall seems far away, parents can already register their children for the next session by calling 608-758-6565 ext. 360. Cost is $150 for the entire session. More information is available by visiting

Members of the youth orchestra are: Tom Barrett, Karissa Berg, Austin Buchner, Ellen Butler, John Butler, Emma Campell, Lily Campell, Gini Cooper, Grace Ejnik, Tony Fair, Patrick Forbeck, Stephen Hamann, Ysabella Hamann, Kiarra Henkel, Brooke Hodges, Marta Huss-Lederman, Kaitlyn Knapton, Sam Murdy, Eiley Murphy, Page Nimmer, Nishani Patel, Saul Parente, Ashley Parmer, Andrew Reilly, Kismet Shepard, Marilla Smith, Natalie Smith, Gianna Speaks, Brooke Strickert, Taylor Tompkins, Rebekah Tropp, Dakota Vaughn, Kyle Warda and Ethan Wente.

Saul Parente and Eiley Murphy, both of Beloit, rehearse with the UW-Rock County Youth Orchestra. The group, comprised of young musicians who play string or band instruments, is to have its final concert on May 5.


Brooke Strickert, 17, of Beloit, plays violin during a rehearsal with the UW-Rock County Youth Orchestra.


Clarinet player Nishani Patel, of Beloit, rehearses with the UW-Rock County Youth Orchestra.


Jean Dickinson conducts students involved in the UW-Rock County Youth Orchestra during a rehearsal in Janesville.


Rebekah Tropp, of Beloit, plays the French Horn during a rehearsal with the UW-Rock County Youth Orchestra in Janesville.

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