“I will always be grateful…” ~ Viola You

“I am attending UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music as a music education and violin performance double major. I’ve picked up viola for chamber music during my first year! (Not just because of my name, but I thought it’d be fun to expand my chamber music experiences)

Joining YOCJ definitely stirred a deep passion in me for orchestral repertoire. I hold the experiences and knowledge I gained from being in the orchestra close to my heart as I study music in college. One of the greatest things I learned during my enrollment is the importance of connecting with everyone around me as I play my instrument: my peers, the conductor, and the audience. I learned so much about communicating musically and understanding each other without words. I look up to Mr. Pugh and Mr. End as great musical mentors (as well as conductors) and I will always be grateful for the education I received during my time with YOCJ.”

“I definitely plan on pursuing my interest in music…” ~ Ryan D’souza

“I am currently a high school Senior at Princeton High School. In fall of this year, I will attend Rutgers University’s School of Arts and Sciences (New Brunswick campus) Honors Program, where I plan on graduating in 2019 with a Bachelors of Science in Computer Science and a Bachelors of Arts in Psychology.
Aside from getting admission (with scholarships and Honors programs) into my top three choices for college, my other biggest accomplishment is securing a Software Engineering Internship at CommVault this summer.
In terms of music, I’ve taken up playing classical music and classic rock songs on the piano. I love playing all the 60s/70s/80s/90/s music (Bon Jovi, the Beatles, etc.), and when I’m in college, I definitely plan on pursuing my interest in music by joining a music-oriented club.”

“Without YOCJ, I would not be who I am today.” ~ Tessa Berger

Tessa Berger is currently a freshmen music education major and saxophonist at Blair School of Music, Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee. She says,”The Youth Orchestra of Central Jersey was my favorite part of my pre-college music career. It gave me a group of friends that shared my passion of music and helped me challenge myself as a student and musician with the wide range of repertoire. YOCJ was the perfect outlet to explore my love of music and the wonderful conducting staff helped me realize that I wanted to pursue  music as a career. I was given opportunities to play principal parts, arrange music, conduct, play a concerto, work with composers, and even travel! Without YOCJ, I would not be who I am today.” ~ Tessa Berger

“YOCJ…is an unparalleled platform for education…” ~ Azhad Syed

Azhad5  Azhad2

“In 2013, YOCJ senior Azhad Syed performed the third movement of Joseph Schwantner’s Concerto for Percussion and Orchestra, ‘ritmico con brio’ in YOCJ’s Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Mr. John Enz. Half a year later, he has had the amazing opportunity to follow up with the Pullitzer Prize winning composer, Schwantner, himself. For the 2014 Winter quarter at Northwestern University, Joseph Schwantner spent one week at the Bienen School of Music as the Composer in Residency. During his stay at Northwestern, music students participated in a festival style presentation of a large selection of Schwantner’s music. Azhad performed in Chasing Light for orchestra under Dr. Robert G. Hasty, and …and the mountains rising nowhere under renowned wind ensemble director Mallory B. Thompson.”

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(One of the pictures

is a group photo of the

Northwestern SWE

percussion section and

Mallory Thompson

after a percussion sectional.)






Azhad began playing in YOCJ during his sophomore year of high school. This was also his second year playing percussion, and he saw YOCJ as an opportunity to play with serious high school students at an advanced level. What he didn’t see then was that YOCJ is not only that, but so much more. It is an unparalleled platform for education and connection that he has not seen in many places in New Jersey. YOCJ introduced Azhad to his private teacher, and he has seen this happen to many of his colleagues as well–the YOCJ faculty is truly a collection of some of the best high school music teachers in the state. Not only do students have access to their primary instrument instructors, but the artistic guidance of the entire faculty is at hand, when undertaking large projects, new works, or even hard orchestral excerpts.

YOCJ was where Azhad met some of his best friends from high school–making music at that level builds friendships that remain outside of the concert hall, and allows younger students to receive the guidance and support from older students. It is a place where a senior soloist in Symphonic orchestra and an upcoming 7th grade drummer and percussionist can develop an artistic connection and collaborate in making music–this is something he really believes you cannot find anywhere else in the state. It is an opportunity to meet high school students from around Central Jersey, develop friendships and help each other on anything from orchestra repertoire to solo music and from college apps to marching band.

Most importantly, these elements all combine to make YOCJ a necessary foundation of a student’s musical learning. It caters to every single step of the learning process and enables students to finish strong at any level of commitment to the instrument, be it a dedicated recreational player or a senior enrolled in a university music program. Azhad has YOCJ to thank for much of his experience in music in his senior year and for helping him transition into freshman year at the Bienen School of Music.

Azhad Syed would like to thank Mr. Pugh, for all the hard work he has put into making YOCJ all the things that are stated above. Both under the baton and otherwise, your contribution to YOCJ has made a huge difference on Azhad’s relationship with music and percussion. Best of luck in the spring concert!”

“amazing musical & cultural experiences…” ~ Christopher Gittings

Hi, I’m Christopher Gittings. I played Trumpet in the Wind Symphony, Pro Arte Orchestra, and Brass Choir as a Freshman and Sophomore in High School, Symphonic Orchestra and Brass Choir as a Junior and Senior.

I’m studying Cognitive Science at Case Western Reserve University as a Freshman in College. I am the captain of our Quidditch Team. I now play trumpet in the Case Symphonic Winds and Jazz Band. I also live a short walk away from Severance Hall where the Cleveland Orchestra plays and I love going to see them.

Performing with YOCJ exposed me to a whole genre of music that I hadn’t taken seriously before. It changed my musical tastes and the direction of my instrumental journey, providing me many amazing musical and cultural experiences, which I’ll never forget.

Congrats on the new website!

Best, Chris

“…a lot of exciting music in YOCJ.” ~ Aneesh Jonelagadda

Last spring, I got accepted into the prestigious All-National Honors Ensemble. I had to play second chair in band, but the top two basses get to play in band, so I guess I could be called number two in the nation! I also got into the All-Eastern ensemble, and we rehearse for the first time in just a few weeks at Rhode Island. Additionally, my CJMEA regions orchestra score was so high this year that I got invited to play in the band without needing to audition. I had lots of fun playing in these high-level groups.

YOCJ has really made the transition of going from a school orchestra to a professional-grade youth ensemble less disruptive. Doing YOCJ prepared me for the rigor and expectations these numerous ensembles placed upon me, and I think I had a great advantage going in to the many seating auditions I encountered because we cover and audition with a lot of exciting music in YOCJ. I also liked how Mr. Enz and Mr. Pugh gave the usually underrepresented double-bass relatively challenging parts that weren’t the stereotypical ‘whole notes and rests’.

Thanks, Aneesh Jonelagadda

“…meet new people who share your passion.” ~ Tessa Zhang

I am currently a freshman in the Rutgers business school double majoring in finance and economics and minoring in criminology. I am part of the Rutgers Women club volleyball team and I presented in front of the CEO of a company that provides athletic scholarships to students.
Being a part of YOCJ has taught to be not only a better musician but also a more motivated one. The audition process prepared me for Region II Band auditions and I actually made it! YOCJ also challenged me with a wide range of pieces and motivated me to practice more. It is a great opportunity to improve upon yourself and meet new people who share your passion.

Best of luck, Tessa Zhang

“Excellent collection of talented students…” ~ Kelsea Schimmel

“YOCJ is known for prestigious and distinguished performances.  The annual concerto competition is an excellent example of the professionalism of YOCJ – this orchestra is an excellent collection of talented students playing the greatest works of all time.”
Best, Kelsea Schimmel
Skidmore College 2017

“…becoming a part of another family.” ~ Wenyi Ouyang

“I unfortunately was only able to be a part of YOCJ for a year due to
commute difficulties, but that one year was enough to provide me with an incredible
experience that I will never forget. When I first joined YOCJ, I did not know anyone.
However, within days I made friends, people that I am still close to up until this day.
YOCJ was just the right place for me to better my musicianship. I had opportunities
to play at some fantastic venues such as Richardson Hall in Princeton, not to
mention the world famous Haydn hall and various other European destinations.
YOCJ boasts a panel of very accomplished band directors that are not only clearly
very skilled but care deeply about every member in YOCJ. An interesting personal
experience I had proved to me how dedicated and kind these band conductors truly
are. The year that I participated in YOCJ, we went on a European tour to play in
Austria and Czech Republic. When we were at the airport to go back to the United
States, I had some visa issues. I was forced to stay behind but not alone. One of the
orchestra directors, Mr. Pugh, stepped up to stay behind with me. He treated me as if I
were his own child. With several dozen phone calls, I was able to board a plane back
to the U.S. the next day accompanied by Mr. Pugh. I would just like to point out that
Mr. Pugh did not have to do any of this, but that is what is special about YOCJ. By
joining YOCJ, you are not only becoming a part of another orchestra, you are becoming a
part of another family.” ~ Wenyi Ouyang

“YOCJ prepared me for success…” ~ Ross Chapman

I’m currently studying music at Columbia University, where I’m taking classes in trombone, piano, music theory, and ethnomusicology, along with my English courses. I play in the marching band and wind ensemble here, and I’ve recently gotten to do some brass chamber work. I’m also working a couple jobs and writing for a campus publication – and I still have time for music!

The YOCJ provides an unparalleled opportunity to participate in advance chamber ensembles from a young age. This is invaluable experience that exposes musicians to new repertoire and techniques, and it can’t be found in other regional or state ensembles. The conductors are all wonderful, amicable, and intelligent; I became a better player every week with them. It also prepares musicians for environments where they are surrounded by other dedicated performers, like at college or auditions. YOCJ prepared me for success in many types of music at every level.