AAYS Stories

Stories in their own words

The stories and quotes on this page were submitted by the students themselves about their experiences with the AAYS.

Molly Srour (Alumna, Clarinet)

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My appreciation for music has been enhanced through my participation in the AAYS.  In addition to the group performances, I have enjoyed the chamber group opportunities – such as Woodwind Trio. AAYS has inspired me to compose. Become part of AAYS, the season begins with fresh faces in January and best friends in June!

Eleanor Dunbar (Alumna, Violin)

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AAYS was truly an incredible experience for me.  When I first joined, I didn’t have much orchestral experience, and this orchestra really shaped me into the musician I am today.  The chance to work alongside Maestro Benoit is an unforgettable experience.  Being in the orchestra, the opportunities were endless.  Some that stand out to me are performing original compositions by Maestro Benoit, soloing with the orchestra, and participating in community events such the Peninsula Music and Street Fair.

Some students are given the opportunity to sit in with the Asia America Symphony professionals and experience firsthand the professional music world.  AAYS really aims at educating young musicians to be very professional, whether it be in your preparation or promptness.  AAYS is unique in that you get to play varying genres of music, not only classical music.  A musician must be well rounded and this orchestra really prepares you for that.   It is refreshing to be surrounded by people that share the same passion, and it makes you realize that music has the power to bring people together.  Over the eight years that I was in AAYS, I met many wonderful musicians, both professionals and students, played in incredible venues such as Disney Hall and Ford Theater, and most importantly, had a lot of fun.  I am so thankful that I got to be a part of this wonderful orchestra.

Justin Klunk (Alumnus, Saxophone)

Justin is an alumni of the AAYS and now plays professionally.

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The Asia American Youth Symphony (AAYS) was a crucial part of my life and my decision to pursue music.  I started AAYS while I was in the 7th grade.  At the time, I was only playing saxophone in my middle school’s marching band and trying to find more places to play music in the South Bay.  Upon joining, I was unaware of all the great talents involved with the orchestra, and how helpful David Benoit would be to me in future years to come.  If memory serves me right, I believe I was the first saxophonist to join the orchestra, and as David would say now-and-then, the sax was bigger than I was. I didn’t realize until a few years later how unique that was and how visionary  the organization had been to include non-classical instruments into their ensemble!  When I joined, David and the organization had me play on one song since I had joined a little ways into their season, and that was a medley from “Phantom of the Opera”.  Little did I know, saxophones were not typically in orchestras.  It was insane and I was extremely nervous. I had never played something that difficult before  and my parents still remember me getting frustrated trying to learn the song a week or two before the performance at Villa Montalvo. During rehearsals though, David and the other experienced members were so helpful by teaching me some of the rhythms I was having difficulty with and giving me the playing experience that I needed.  After that first performance with them, that was it. I fell in love with the group and remained with them for another 5 years after that.
David’s mentorship didn’t end there. The year after I had joined, a few more jazz-oriented musicians had joined the ensemble and David had the idea to create a small jazz quintet with us and have us learn a mixture of jazz standards as well as his own songs. The real life-changing part comes here. I had never had any experience playing jazz. We learned David’s arrangement of the Herbie Hancock tune called “Watermelon Man”. After we all learned the melody and arrangement, David invited our combo to play at his own show at the Armstrong Theater in Torrance with his personal band.  To put it simply, it was the best night of my life.  After we performed and watched his band tear it up, I decided that I wanted to perform and play music professionally. The only problem was, I didn’t know how to improvise and had to turn down a solo that night.  David didn’t let that stop me.  He introduced me to his saxophonist, Andy Suzuki, and had me learn how to play jazz.  From there, I went on to continue my studies by auditioning to attend the LA County High School for the Performing Arts, which wouldn’t have happened without the playing experience from AAYS.

I could go on for pages about all the experiences and opportunities David has  given me throughout my time with AAYS; countless performances in wonderful venues with amazing guests artists and linking me to many mentors throughout my life.  The one trait about David that I wont forget is his love of guiding the AAYS members towards excellence. He would give performance opportunities to orchestra members if they showed him their interest and drive.  I have been fortunate along with a few others to perform at David’s concerts on multiple occasions and record with the orchestra, and those experiences will stay with me forever!  David’s focus has always been to teach the members not only how conduct themselves on stage, but to strive for excellence off the stage and act like a professional. These are lessons that I still apply to myself to  this day.

Fast forward a few years post-AAYS.  I’ve recently graduated as part of the inaugural class of Pop Music Performance at USC, and am currently on tour as the saxophonist for Ariana Grande as well as pursuing my solo career in smooth jazz. David has always been open to me emailing him for advice and loves to hear back from his students on how  they are doing.  I know this not only goes for myself, but many other colleagues who have been pursuing music.  David has acted like a father-figure to the group and I think if I were to sum up AAYS to any prospective student, it would be that  AAYS functions like a professional family.  Two other mentors that are part of this AAYS family are Darryl Tanikawa and Joe Marino who work tirelessly to teach music as well as responsibility and respect.  For any current student, my main advice would be to strive for excellence. Don’t settle for just a good performance. Go for a stellar performance! Take chances, push yourself, push your section, and above all, be kind to everyone!  Egos have no room in any musical or professional situation and the group (and yourself) will always benefit by helping others to make the group sound amazing and feel at home!  I know that AAYS will continue its mission to educate, and I hope young musicians will take advantage of this program that essentially sparked my passion to pursue music! You never know, it may have the same effect on you, and even if you don’t decide to pursue music as a living, it will provide you with great lifelong memories and valuable life lessons.

You can read more about Justin by clicking here.

Austin Young (Current Member, Bassoon)

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AAYS has given me the opportunities necessary to better myself as both a bassoonist and a musician.  It has brought me together with great musical minds, such as David Benoit, Joe Marino, and Darryl Tanikawa, all of whom have helped me in different ways.  From the very beginning, the orchestra has been with me every step of the way in my career as a bassoonist