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Four Manteca teens playing with youth symphony
East Union junior Erikk Nichols (bassoon), Sierra High junior Alex Sakata (trumpet), Sierra High senior Aaron Tomte (clarinet) and Manteca High junior Ben Tolman (French horn) have a laugh before final preparations are made for their Sunday performance with the Central Valley Youth Symphony. - photo by JASON CAMPBELL

In a lot of ways Aaron Tomte is like any other high school senior – he has high hopes for his future and he loves music.

But while his friends, and even his parents, are listening to the latest rock and metal tracks, Tomte is listening to Franz Schubert and Johann Sebastian Bach searching for ways that he can incorporate the classic pieces arranged by the iconic composers into his clarinet playing.

It’s just something that you do when your musical chops are good enough to land you a seat in the Central Valley Youth Symphony performing at UOP’s Faye Spanos Concert Hall on Sunday at 3 p.m.

The experience of playing with other young people that are serious about their music, Tomte says, has only elevated his own performance and helped him gain a new perspective on his future.

“It pushes you – it’s a group that’s a lot more dedicated than you’d find in a traditional high school band,” he said. “And you’re encouraged to a lot more than you would normally do. You’re a part of something that’s much larger.”

And Tomte isn’t alone in pushing the boundaries of what can be done with a musical instrument.

Sierra High Junior Alex Sakata performs as a trumpeter in the youth symphony while Manteca High junior Ben Tolman’s French horn helps round out a section. Errik Nichols – an East Union High junior – plays the Bassoon.

Individually they’re standouts in their respective high school bands. Together they’re musical prodigies pushing themselves and their abilities while pursuing something that they love.

And their conversations aren’t what you’d expect to hear from four high school students sitting around a table shooting the breeze.

They talk about Mozart. They talk about Beethoven. And they talk about what it’s like to perform with entire sections to round out a full symphony – something that they don’t get performing individually with their respective high school bands.

Then there’s the love for the music itself – in written form – and the ability to appreciate it from a different perspective.

“What motivates me is learning how to understand the music – to get the rhythm – and learn as much about it as I possibly can,” Sakata said. “It doesn’t sound the same as it did before I started playing advanced music like this. I can hear the difficulty.”

Nichols, who moved to the Central Valley in 2009, soon discovered that his musical abilities extended beyond the standard world of high school band.

Being a part of the Central Valley Youth Symphony, he said, has helped hone his skills and given him a newfound respect for the entire concept of symphonic music – turning his woodwind performance in as part of something larger.

“It has really approved my quality of music,” he said. “Playing with people that are serious about what they’re doing really makes a difference. It changes everything – in a good way.”

The opportunity also affords those who take their performing seriously the opportunity to learn what their future will be like if and when they choose to pursue it beyond the normal confines of high school and college.

For Tolman it’s a chance to cut his teeth before making an attempt at the San Francisco Youth Symphony next year and taking his love for classical music to the collegiate level.

“I’m planning on going to college and focusing on theory and composition – it’s a really great step towards becoming a professional musician.

“Music is incredibly important to me and I’d go to as far as I can with it. This is a great experience to make that happen.”

The Central Valley Youth Symphony’s Spring Concert will be held on Sunday, April 29, at Stockton’s Faye Spanos Concert Hall on the campus of The University of the Pacific. The performance begins at 3 p.m. The organization is also holding open auditions for the next sitting on May 1 from 4 to 8 p.m. at the Faye Spanos Concert Hall. Those needing more information can call 1-888-367-2897 or visit