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Joseph Young Talks with Raising Arizona Kids

Joseph Young, the recently appointed resident conductor for The Phoenix Symphony, was still adjusting to the Arizona heat when we spoke by phone one August afternoon. “It’s almost over, right?” I didn’t have the heart to tell him otherwise.

Something tells me he’s looking forward to The Phoenix Symphony performance of “The Music of John Williams” at the Yavapai College Auditorium in Prescott come early October.

Still, the heat doesn’t appear to be cramping Young’s style. He’s enjoyed several hikes on Squaw Peak and speaks with enthusiasm about exploring Valley arts destinations like the Phoenix Art Museum.

Young serves as conductor for the Family Series at Symphony Hall

“I was surprised by the quality here,” he says of his early experiences with Arizona arts and culture. Seems some folks in other parts of the country underappreciate our arts scene, but Young’s tuned in to all sorts of dance and theater groups — and likes the way so many support and enrich each other. Young describes the Valley arts scene as “very inclusive.”

His parents never listened to classical music. Instead, Young grew up listening to gospel music and “top 40″ tunes. Today he listens to lots of classical music, but also The Black Eyed Peas, Lady Gaga and “funk bands” like Earth, Wind and Fire.

Young, now 29, discovered musical instruments after a band program came to visit his school in South Carolina. “I saw the trumpet and my dad was looking for something to keep me out of trouble,” muses Young. “The trumpet was the only instrument I could make a sound on at the time.” He played through high school and college but caught the conducting bug at 16.

Young attended a five-week summer program where he not only played the trumpet but also took classes in music history, music theory and conducting. “That was the first time I got in touch with conducting,” recalls Young. “I’ve wanted to be an orchestral conductor since I was 16.”

He’s careful to distinguish “classical” music from “orchestral” music. Today’s orchestras play more than classical selections, as evidenced by offerings in this season’s “Target Family Series” from The Phoenix Symphony.

Young also heads up Symphony in the Schools and Classroom Concerts

The series includes “Holiday Celebration” (Dec), “Beethoven Lives Upstairs” (Jan), “Dr. Seuss’ Green Eggs & Ham” (March), “Musical Fables” (April) and “High Flying! Cirque de la Symphonie” (May). Families can purchase individual tickets or save by getting a season package.

Though he’s not a parent, Young seems very much in tune with today’s children and teens. Young spent three years teaching high school music, which left him with a deep appreciation for the balancing act of managing a myriad of activities in a complex world. “We have to bring music to the kids,” he says, “without forcing it.”

The Phoenix Symphony has charged Young with “programming, rehearsing and conducting” their pops and family concerts, and two education programs — Symphony in the Schools and Classroom Concerts. He also conducts at special events.

When describing his work, Young speaks not only of conducting but also his role as music “advocate.” He’s got lots of ideas for making orchestral experiences fresh and fun for both children and their grown-ups.

You’ll find Young in the Symphony Hall lobby after most family series concerts. Seems he enjoys showing children how to conduct. Also answering their questions about music and getting feedback about their concert experiences. He’s even game when families want him to pose with their children for photos.

Something tells me bulletin boards in kids’ rooms all over the Valley will be sporting these pictures before too long. How wonderful to grow up in a city where conductors are right up there with all our other superheroes.

– Lynn

Note: Watch for details on The Phoenix Symphony’s education and community programs in a future issue of Raising Arizona Kids magazine or visit to explore their offerings right away. Photos from


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