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International Musicians Call Loudoun Home

They didn’t share a language, a culture or a country, but for Gina Anderson of Leesburg, hosting a family from Mexico gave her three children an experience "you can’t duplicate anywhere."

Anderson has opened her home twice to visiting youth musicians participating in the International Youth Orchestra.

First, Anderson hosted a mother and her three teenagers from Orizaba, Mexico.

"They spoke about 10 percent English and we spoke about 2 percent Spanish. But, by the end of the week we were communicating," Anderson said.

She has also hosted three teenage girls from Mexico City.

"At first, you don’t know each other, you’re from different countries. By the end," Anderson said, "you’re one cohesive unit." Anderson’s three young children, who play in the orchestra, quickly made friends with their fellow musicians. They still exchange letters with the family from Orizaba.

"She’ll send me letters in English and I’ll have my letters to her translated to Spanish," Anderson said.

The Leesburg-based nonprofit organization, Youth Music, oversees the International Youth Orchestra. President Gabriela Bohnett, an Ashburn resident, works to place the musicians with local families. She sees the cultural exchange as one more way to promote classical music. Growing up in Venezuela, Bohnett developed a love for classical music, which she says is much more prevalent there.

"We try to bring the music to the people. This is just another way to do that," Bohnett said.

Host families help the musicians make their way while they’re here. "Families adopt a youth for their stay. They feed them, drive them, cheer them on and then send them home," Bohnett said.

YOUTH MUSICIANS come from around the world to participate in the International Youth Orchestra, which hosts several events throughout the year in Leesburg. Jorge Alvarez, 18, traveled from Venezuela. The cellist finds the hospitality of host families makes the trip easier for the musicians. Many are making their first trip to this country.

"The host family becomes like parents. They take you different places and show you different things," Alvarez said.

They also make sure musicians are on time and where they are supposed to be for performances.

Having someone in the audience, cheering for them is what many of the young musicians like most.

"They come to your concert. You see them and you can imagine it’s your own parents there," Alvarez said.

Of course, mixing families from different countries is not without challenges. Bohnett said they have had very few problems. Language is the most common barrier, but even that can be overcome. The Andersons found Web sites to help them communicate with their visiting musicians.

"When you first come here, you meet your family. You speak little English and they speak no Spanish but the music brings you together," Alvarez said.

There are also cultural differences host families can help explain.

THE INTERNATIONAL Youth Orchestra recently completed its summer concert series. More than 150 youth musicians were placed with host families. Bohnett says the process of matching students with families is a personal one. Interested families contact Youth Music. Families may come from the community and some have children in the orchestra.

"Some people just hear about it or read it in the paper and call us," Bohnett said.

After completing the application form, Bohnett meets with each family several times. For selected families, there’s an orientation and they will get a profile of their student. Bohnett works directly with conductors of orchestras in other countries to select participants.

"They know the students personally. They do auditions and evaluations," she said.

The musicians usually stay with a family eight or nine days.

EIGHT STUDENTS have stayed in Loudoun County after the summer concert series. They are participating in newly created internships with the Virginia Conservatory of Music, teaching music to young children and helping around the conservatory. They have been offered scholarships to the music program at Shenandoah University if they complete the required English prerequisites. They will be with host families from September through December. Bohnett says they are still looking for host families for four of the students.

For Bohnett, the International Youth Orchestra and the Virginia Conservatory of Music are a family affair. She feels a bond to all of the youth musicians who travel to play in the orchestra. Her daughters, ages 8 and 9, are learning to play the cello and violin and her toddler son is mastering rhythm basics.

"I want my children to know and enjoy classical music like I did when I was growing up," she said.