Two Gifford Youth Orchestra violinists will be featured in a musical extravaganza February 23 at the E-String in Las Vegas, Nevada. Crystal Bujol, the GYO’s artistic director, announced the trip Tuesday at the organization’s weekly rehearsal in Vero Beach.
The students are Mieca Eeja Ferguson, 13, and Jada Powell, 15. As part of a Black History Month celebration, they will perform as members of the Woody Woods Orchestra, a stage band based in Las Vegas.
“It’s part of a private exchange program designed to showcase our GYO talent and to put our students in performance situations with professional musicians at the highest level,” said Dr. Bujol. “The Woods band is extremely popular in Las Vegas and plays all the time at venues around the city.”
Woods, former music director for singers Della Reese and Stevie Wonder, is a composer and arranger. He has written parts especially for the Gifford students so they can play side by side with their new bandmates.
The Vero Beach teens were chosen to take part because their work ethic and their commitment to learning is so strong, according to Dr. Bujol. “They are part of a very talented group of soloists working with us right now. Their repertoire has grown remarkably and they’ve broken through to a higher level.”
But the students will face a new challenge in Las Vegas. Their training so far has been classical, but now they will be appearing on a stage full of working jazz musicians.
“And that’s the point,” said Woods in a telephone interview. “We want them to absorb an entirely new style, and they couldn’t be better situated to do that than sitting in with my players. These guys are so good they can sight read their parts upside down. And they’re going to teach MiecaEeja and Jada a lot of that skill.”
The girls will spread what they learn when they get back, says Dr. Bujol. “One of our mottoes is, ‘Each one teach one.’ The children start tutoring younger students from a very early stage of their training, so they’re used to it.”
Jada, a tenth grader at Vero Beach High School, is a first violinist in its Philharmonic Orchestra. She started on her instrument at the age of seven when she joined the GYO and has been its Concert Master since 2018.
Her interests are broader than music alone, however. She hopes to do pre-med when she enters college, aiming for a career as an obstetrician/gynecologist. But she says she will also continue to tutor aspiring Gifford Youth Orchestra musicians to help them realize they, too, “can travel from small towns to big cities just because they play the violin well.”
MiecaEeja began to play violin at age six and joined the GYO two years ago. She plays first violin with its Ensembles Team and tutors younger students. She is an eighth-grader at St. Helen’s where she is an Honors STEAM student. STEAM uses Science, Technology, Engineering, the Arts and Mathematics as access points to guide student inquiry, dialogue, and critical thinking. In the St. Helen’s musical ensemble, she plays clarinet and bells.
Involved in both drama and dance, she played leading roles in the school’s productions of “The Jungle Book” and “Aladdin.” She is Assistant Youth Choir Director not only of her school but of the St. Helen’s Church Youth Choir.
Mieca Eeja says she wants to pursue a music degree and minor in drama in college to continue the GYO tradition of “Each one teach one.”
For more information about the Gifford Youth Orchestra visit gyotigers.org