Testimonials & Reviews

Chern Yang, Violinist: For me, YOCJ has been a wonderful place to experience repertoire, meet fellow musicians, practice and improve musicianship, and to simply enjoy music. From joining in fourth grade, to now having graduated high school, YOCJ has truly helped shape me into who I am today.

I will never forget the Germany tour in sixth grade, where I got to experience touring with an ensemble for the first time. Though it may have been through rose-tinted glasses, I was taken aback by the beautiful cathedrals and halls we performed in (visually and acoustically!), the rich culture and history we were surrounded by, and also the experience of spending a trip doing nothing but performing and enjoying music. I gained such a deeper appreciation for music, history and culture. Just hearing Mendelssohn’s Reformation Symphony still brings back those fond memories.

I will never forget the YOCJ programs during COVID, where I got to debut a piece with Midori… over Zoom. Meeting and performing with her was an unforgettable experience, but so was the nightmarish process of rehearsing and recording online — deciphering pixelated conducting, listening to a crumbling ensemble, fighting with the third-party recording software, all while playing a piece that was deliberately staggered to sound like lag. I did, however, also gain from there the opportunity to join the Argus Quartet’s Composers’ Institute, which would enrich, empower, and forever change my journey as a composer.
These experiences, and so countless others, have impacted me so much. Yet above all, I will never forget the simple, week-to-week rehearsals. For eight years, YOCJ remained a comforting constant in my life. Every rehearsal, no matter how tired or how down I felt, I could unpack my instrument, sit down, and just forget about the world for a while, to simply enjoy creating music. Even though some rehearsals might have felt boring or tedious at the time, looking back I realize how important it was for me to have these moments of solace, and how incredibly fortunate I am to have had them. For every moment YOCJ has gifted me, I am grateful.
Sanjay Kaushik, Violinist: As a rising senior and member of the Youth Orchestra of Central Jersey since 6th grade, I can confidently say that the community I found at YOCJ is a huge factor in sustaining my commitment to playing the violin. I look forward to the fun weekly rehearsals with my friends and enjoy our concerts led by our amazing Directors. Over the years, I have participated in various opportunities organized by YOCJ that helped me grow as a musician and as a team member.
My favorite memories are of meeting David Kim, Concertmaster of the Philadelphia Orchestra. I was very fortunate to be coached in his Masterclasses. It was a great honor for me to play Principal Second Violin for Mr. Kim as he performed the mighty Beethoven Violin Concerto at our Winter concert. All of us were inspired not only by his incredible talent but also by his down to earth friendliness and genuine encouragement.
In my final year with YOCJ, I look forward to making more wonderful memories.  With college on the horizon I hope to be part of and contribute to a warm and collaborative community like YOCJ as I continue my musical journey.
Hello! I am Saanvi Mathur, a student of the String Preparatory Orchestra of YOCJ. YOCJ has been a fun experience for me because I got to do a lot of new things. They challenge the members to their extent to discover their true potential through learning complex pieces. There are also plenty of opportunities to learn and grow as a musician from events like masterclasses and concerts. My parents were able to attend some of my concerts, and from the skills that I’ve displayed during my performances, they have a reason to support my musical journey. My extended family all throughout the world have come to appreciate my skills and are looking forward to seeing my progress. My cousins also are inspired by my musical journey and intend to follow my footsteps. In addition to learning, I’ve also made a couple of friends during rehearsal time and during the rest of the season. Thank you YOCJ for providing so many opportunities and inspiring others through me!

Aarav Patel, Cellist: I had been playing the cello for nearly two years when I joined YOCJ in 7th grade. At that time, I had no idea of the growth and enjoyment I would experience being part of an orchestral community. Reflecting on the last five years, I can definitely say that YOCJ is more than just about playing your own instrument. Its about collaboration, teamwork, respect and commitment, all life skills that I, as a rising senior have valued immensely and will take with me into my college years and beyond. Musically, my favorite experiences have been playing with the world-renowned violinist Midori for a special, virtual concert during the pandemic, playing alongside the Princeton Symphony Orchestra, masterclasses with professional musicians and performing chamber music. There has been no shortage of opportunities that have fueled my passion for music, challenged me and helped me grow as a musician.

My name is Shannon Ferrara. I am a parent of a participating student for 7 years as well as in-school band director and/or private lesson teacher for some students. Also, as of this past year, I have become more involved with the organization as a conductor. I cannot say enough good things about the Youth Orchestra of Central Jersey and the opportunities they provide students. I’ve seen numerous instances of the great work they do both as a parent, as a school and private music teacher, and as a conductor in the organization. I have personally observed the musical growth and confidence of playing and as a person overall of my own child as well as students with whom I work in school and privately. YOCJ provides opportunities to young musicians they can’t otherwise get such as performing in small chamber ensembles. Because of the small ensembles in which the woodwind, brass, and percussion students play, they learn to be more self-reliant in their playing. Often times, these students would rely on the safety of numbers in their school ensemble, but while playing in the chamber group, they might be the only one on their part and are challenged to play with confidence. This then translates to more confidence in their school ensembles and they become leaders within their groups. I am proud to have supported this organization and now to be a part of it. And I am proud of the YOCJ students’ hard work and dedication to the betterment of their musicianship.

Sanjay Kaushik, Violinist: I have been playing the violin as a member of the Youth Orchestra of Central Jersey for the past six years. I have had numerous special opportunities that I wouldn’t have had elsewhere, which constantly inspire me to practice and play the violin with a true passion. I had the privilege of participating in masterclasses with the incredible David Kim, concertmaster of the Philadelphia Orchestra, and Basia Danilow, concertmaster of the Princeton Symphony Orchestra, I played for Midori as part of her Orchestra Residencies Program, I was taught to analyze music through the eyes of the remarkable Rob Kapilow, and learned directly from skilled professionals through YOCJ’s partnership with the Princeton Symphony Orchestra.  Each interaction left me in awe of these super talented musicians who are also warm, kind and funny!

In 2019, when YOCJ announced its first Chamber Music Recital, I was excited to form a string quartet as I wanted to try playing Chamber Music.  I immediately chose my friends from YOCJ to join me.  With advice and encouragement from Mr. Pugh we began practicing together regularly.  Following 3 years of consistent effort, including through the pandemic, this spring our quartet was selected to play in Alice Tully Hall as part of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center’s Young Musicians Program.  It was another wonderful experience that was possible only due to my involvement with YOCJ.  Now with newfound appreciation for chamber music, many of my friends are forming small ensemble groups and practicing together!  YOCJ is an amazing community led by dedicated and patient conductors/staff who inspire us everyday to be our best selves on and off the stage.

Henry Tsai, 8th grade violinist:
“My experience working with Dr. Flanders was amazing! I enjoyed both the online Rounds and Canons class and the Midori Concertino project. I learned a ton and had a great time!”
Regards, Henry
Prisha Bagchi, 7th grade Violinist:
I was in the chamber camp this summer. I had an amazing time with Dr. Flanders coaching our group! She was really fun and also gave us great suggestions and tips for our piece, which made it a lot better. Her analogies were really easy to understand too, and I learned a lot from her. It was truly a unique experience for me. 

Nicholas Epps, 12th grade violinist:
“Even during these unusual times, PSO’s partnership with YOCJ ensured we could still make music during the 2020-2021 season. Despite our virtual limitations, Dr. Flanders hosted a wonderful online course where we played Bach’s Musical Offering. And during the summer, the in-person chamber music Summer camp was exceptional. Our coach, Rajli, helped us take our piece to the next level.”
Nikhil Das, 12th grade cellist talks about his experience with PSO coaches during the 2021 Summer Chamber Music Camp at Rider University:
“Some coaching advice that was really helpful was making sure we were listening to each other at all times. Jichen Li had us play with our eyes closed, without music, and with the room pitch black at different times to help us listen to each other. I think this definitely let us hear each other more and the direction the music was supposed to take us. I also appreciate the subtle differences that he explained even with simple notes one of my favorite lines was as a cellist when we have easy parts we have to “create our own work” so even in parts in the Mozart he taught me how to phrase quarter notes that seemed very boring and spaced out at first. 
Working with other musicians who were also very into the music as well definitely helped me regain my love for cello playing and also the rehearsals with just the group I think allowed us to work on what we wanted to present during our coaching sessions which lead to more fruitful discussions and coaching rehearsals. I also loved the Master Class, and I think it’s great to help the little kids work on their playing.
I just really really loved Jichen’s coaching. I thought Jichen was spectacular as he made rehearsals very fun, interesting, productive, and he also had a great sense of humor.  He also made us feel like real musicians with chamber music protocol for performances as well as addressing every musician’s nerves of performing. One of my favorite memories was right before the concert he let us all go around individually and talk about what we do when we get nervous and then he offered us solutions to these different problems and that was some of the best advice I have ever received.  He is definitely a coach I will never forget and I would love to work with him in the future.”
Angela Li, 12th grade violinist talks about her experience with PSO coaches during the 2021 Summer Chamber Music Camp at Rider University:
“Jichen Li really helped in ensemble related feedback. He said that one of a chamber group’s biggest challenge is playing in unison, and a way to help is to make eye contact while cuing so everyone stays together. On performance day, he also gave advice on how to not be nervous while performing. He said that the reason why we are nervous is because of the audience, and that if we focus on the beginning of the piece and to play that part well, then the rest of the piece would come along well. Jichen also gave us some advice with sight-reading: when sight-reading with a group, always communicate with each other especially when it comes to tempo and also the repeats (whether or not the group does the repeats or not). 
Rajli Bicolli is also a really great coach. He gave me advice on how to play the Dvorak piece in a “playful” style and also helped the others out with rhythm and balance and dynamics etc. Rajli also shared about his professional gigs, and I think it really helped double bassist Laura because she is really interested in going into jazz in the future. Rajli also brought in his electric cello and a couple of electric violins because he had a gig later on one of the days of the camp, and we got to play on them after our rehearsals. Personally, I found Rajli a “fun” coach who was very immersed in conversing with us.
Both Jichen and Rajli are great cellists and coaches, and if there was an opportunity for them to work with YOCJ again, that would be awesome. Thanks for giving me this opportunity to play at the chamber camp!”

“We want to take this time to say thank you for all you have done for our little girl, Selma Cheeks. YOCJ does more than just teach and train youth to be great musicians, it also teaches them those values that are lacking in our communities and in our young people today. A few examples of these principles are: showing up 15 minutes before practice, being responsible, practicing at the end of the day, being committed, and most importantly, respecting those in authority and adhering to what they’re being taught. These are ethics that all individuals must have, for him or her to be able to cope with today’s fast-paced world. It is our hope that Selma will carry into adulthood everything she has learned from YOCJ. Your organization is definitely needed in today’s ever-changing landscape, with social media taking over young people’s lives with no other healthy choices to take. YOCJ is an excellent resource which our kids have, to safely navigate the chipping waters of today’s culture. Thanks to all the directors for taking time out from their busy schedule to work with our children. My family will never forget all that you have done for Selma and what you are continuing to do for all the children in your organization. May God continue to bless your continued efforts.” ~  Selma’s parents, Eugene and Roseline Cheeks

Brian Woodward

“I would like to express my gratitude for the hard work and dedication of everyone involved with the Youth Orchestra of Central Jersey.  My husband has been a conductor with the organization for many years, and my children and I have enjoyed many concerts.   As an audience member, I was always astounded by the level at which these young musicians performed.

This year, our older son auditioned and became a member of the String Preparatory Orchestra.  His participation with the YOCJ has enabled him to challenge himself and further his skills as a young musician.  The highlight of this year was the trip to Germany, where the students not only performed and interacted with local musicians and conductors, but were exposed to musical history.  For me personally, I never could have imagined that I would witness both my son and my husband performing on the same stage in another country!  This was an amazing and unforgettable experience.

As I am now attending YOCJ concerts as a parent, I am thankful that these talented young students are part of an organization that teaches them to appreciate music, and exposes them to so many opportunities that go beyond the boundaries of simply playing an instrument.” ~ Amy Woodward