Playing pops — Draper man forms orchestra for young musicians
By Tammy Walquist
Deseret Morning News

Personal tragedy inspired Draper resident Dan Whitley to start teaching music 19 years ago.
Mike Terry, Deseret Morning News
Makenzie Andersen, front, rehearses with the youth symphony. Musical skills of the young players range from beginning to intermediate.
His oldest son, Danny, was diagnosed with brain tumors at the age of 6. After the first surgery, Danny wanted to be in a band like his dad, who played with a group called SunShade 'n Rain at the time, so Whitley began putting arrangements together and taught his son to play.

Whitley still recalls Danny's last concert when he sang "Hound Dog" and played a drum solo with one hand and one foot. Danny died when he was only 12 years old. However, from the experience of teaching his son, Whitley decided he wanted to teach other children. He started Whitley Music School, and six months ago he formed the Notable Youth Pops orchestra.

"As I look back, I realize that my original motivation to start teaching children came from my son," he said. "(Music and teaching) are really a part of my grieving."

The Notable Youth Pops orchestra is made up of children ages 7-12 who play various instruments including violin, guitar, bass, saxophone, the drums, percussion, flute, banjo, piano and keyboard.

The orchestra plays simple arrangements with a special flair that Whitley created and include both guitars and percussion. The music they play isn't necessarily the type that would be performed at a symphony, which is why it's called a pops orchestra, Whitley said. To date, the group has a repertoire of 12 pieces. Whitley says the blend of instruments allows the simplified music to help the beginning players.

"Some of the songs like 'Star Wars' and 'Wipe Out' feature the guitars and drums mixed with the sweet flutes and violins in the middle," he said. "Our three strongest players on drums, keyboard and violin are only 7 years old. Other players on guitar are under 12 and really play well."
Mike Terry, Deseret Morning News
Dan Whitley accompanies the young musicians on his bass guitar.

Creating the Notable Youth Pops orchestra was made possible when the Draper Arts Council offered them a rehearsal space in the Salt Lake Community College Draper campus music room. Parent and student-teacher volunteers who sit in and play with the orchestra are also helpful.

Heidi Vandenakker, one of the student teachers, aids the flute players by playing alongside them during rehearsal. She feels it's beneficial for the young musicians to learn to play an instrument and be exposed to the arts at such a young age.

"They learn lots of confidence that way," she said. "They're learning to read music (and) ... function in a group."

Students' music experience varies from beginner to intermediate. Breea and Hailee Linton, 13 and 9 respectively, have both been playing the violin for 3 1/2 years now. Breea's dream is to get a full-ride scholarship to the University of Utah. Hailee hopes to get really good at playing the violin, she said.  Because Breea is 13, above Whitley's target age of 12 for his orchestra members, she serves as an adviser for her sister. In addition to Youth Pops, she is in two other orchestras: Young Artist Chamber Players and the orchestra at her school, Wasatch Junior High.

Alex Castagno, 14, said a friend in the orchestra encouraged him to join, and he has enjoyed his experience thus far.

"You can meet new people, and it's fun to play music — the guitar, drums (and others)," he said.

Aanika Fraga, 11, says she has been playing the flute for about two years and enjoys Youth Pops.

Mike Terry, Deseret Morning News

Brody Stevenette plays drums with the Notable Youth Pops Orchestra.

"I love band," she said.

Gabrielle Siegismund, 10, a guitarist in the orchestra, has played her instrument for two years now. Christen Chen, 11, another guitar player, says she has been playing for about nine months.

Makenzie Andersen, 13, says she enjoys the songs the orchestra plays.

"They're just fun, and they sound cool with the whole symphony," she said, noting that her favorite is "Ode to Joy."

The Notable Youth Pops orchestra will be playing the pre-show for Odyssey Dance Theater's production of "It's a Wonderful Life" this Saturday, Dec. 23, from 1-2 p.m. at Kingsbury Hall, 1395 E. President's Circle on the University of Utah campus. Whitley says this is their most exciting performance yet.

Other performance highlights include the Draper Days Parade, Utah State Fair, Gateway Community Church and playing in Draper Historical Park.

Currently there are 23 children and adults who play. Whitley hopes to increase this number to 100 by next summer. He invites any children or parents interested in learning more about the Notable Youth Pops orchestra to contact him at 918-7740. The orchestra practices Monday afternoons from 5:30-6:30 p.m. in Room 770 in the Salt Lake Community College Draper campus at 12441 S. 900 East, Draper.

Whitley's goal for the Youth Pops orchestra is to help children learn.
"Our goal is keeping this a learning experience, not just a performance experience," he said. "My goal is to do everything I can (to teach these children)."

Mike Terry, Deseret Morning News
Notable Youth Pops Orchestra rehearses under direction of Dan Whitley. The orchestra is made up of youths ages 7 to 12.