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After a recent concert, three teenagers offered rave reviews of the show.

"I really had forgotten how magical it is," said Hailey McLean, 14.

"Loved the climactic finish.," said Nick Long, 17.

"I was excited to see it," said Alex Beck, 17.

They weren't talking about a Slash contest, or the Jägermeister Music Tour at Saltair featuring Buckcherry and HEllYEAH, and definitely not Ke$ha. The West High students were gushing about the Utah Symphony's performance of Debussy's "La Mer."

The three teenagers are members of the first-ever West High Symphony Club, part of a new outreach effort by Utah Symphony | Utah Opera.

After meeting Kate Little, West Symphony Club's parent leader, symphony staff "started dreaming big" and created a template to encourage the establishment of other clubs, said Paula Fowler, director of education and community outreach at US | UO. "We think this is pretty exciting," Fowler said. "I would like to applaud the teachers. They want their students to be inspired."


A classical trend? • The West High club joins such classically focused groups as Jordan High School's Opera Club, or a more informal group at Park City High School and Treasure Mountain Middle School.

Choral teacher Peter Steenblik has led the Jordan club for six years, where 30 to 60 students turn out to attend dress rehearsals of Utah Opera.

Steve Fairbanks, orchestra director at Park City and Treasure Mountain, has been taking students to Utah Symphony performances for three years, and says there's local interest in launching a symphony club. "There's a perception that classical music isn't accessible," said Fairbanks, who conducted his orchestra's performance of Dvorak's New World Symphony in October. "Once [students] attend the symphony, they realize how exceptional it is."


What to wear • For a long time, West student Nick Long imagined attending the symphony or opera was a black-tie affair, not the place for someone wearing a department store button-down shirt and a suitcoat. "As a club, we do not force anybody to go above what they are able — we just want to get people involved," he said. "We often go into these events the most dressed-down people in the building, but we have never once been looked down upon and that would be the same for anyone. Now after only going to four performances, I feel just as welcome as I do anywhere else — and love it."

At Jordan High, Steenblik asks his students to wear their "Sunday best," but encourages them to dress formally. Some students enjoy the chance to dress up, especially girls, he said, who get another opportunity to wear their prom dresses.


Peer pressure • Going as a group makes the experience more appealing to teenagers — and might even send a message to other concertgoers, said West student Hailey McLean. "If you go by yourself, you might feel like a dork or a loner, but when we all go together, I feel like we really make a statement. People don't expect to see groups of teenagers sacrificing their Friday nights to go to the symphony, but that's just it. For us, it's not a sacrifice, but something we love."

Attending with other music lovers helps him appreciate the professional musicians' skill, said West student Alex Beck. "You don't get that kind of experience with just yourself or even your parents. It is cool because you're learning new things about music together with your friends."


Appreciating classical music • In a group interview, the students said they, gasp, actually enjoy classical music. "Opera and symphonic music sometimes takes time to appreciate," Long said. "I have spent most of my life only interested in rock and pop, even after playing the piano for many years. I think everyone should at least give US | UO one night to experience. All music we have now wouldn't exist if we did not have the works of these great musicians."

Converting other students still remains a battle, but the students say it is a fight worth having. "I try to explain to my friends how great classical music is," McLean said. "A lot of my friends mock me or laugh when I say I love classical music, but that's their loss because it enriches my life in a way nothing else can."

Can they say the same thing about Britney Spears?

Club guidelines:

Cost is $23 per student per season, which includes four Utah Symphony Masterworks performances and one Utah Opera Operatunity Night.

The club's group tickets also provide one complimentary adult ticket; additional adult tickets can be purchased at a 20 percent discount. Additional performances can be purchased at the $10 student rate.

For information, call 801-869-9090.