Maestro Jorge Peña was tough on the musicians of the Golden Isles Youth Orchestra during the rehearsal for its Mother’s Day concert last Sunday.

Like a football coach giving a pep talk, the youth orchestra’s leader was strict on the players. He demanded their best and encouraged them to work as a team.

It’s a process the eight graduating seniors in the orchestra have been through before, but unlike the younger members, they knew the hard work will pay dividends.

“It really seems like everything finally comes together,” said Cason Clarke, a violinist and graduating senior. “The hard work pays off. You can see it in your skill level, and in the music. Of course, the recognition from the audience is nice, too.”

The music speaks for itself, but “without an audience, we’d have no reason to play,” Cason said, who will attend Brigham Young University after completing a two-year mission trip for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.

Among the eight seniors leaving the orchestra to pursue university this year, Cason and two others — cellist Zoey Anderson and flutist Sarah Haymans — were awarded the orchestra’s Fetter Award on Sunday. Named for one of the orchestra’s founding volunteers, Beverly S. Fetter, the award is given yearly to one or more graduates who have contributed the most toward the success of the orchestra.

Sarah, 18, a senior at Brunswick High School, said earning the Fetter Award was both an honor and the culmination of years of hard work.

“Orchestra is much different from band,” said Sarah, a member of the orchestra’s leadership team. “There are these magic moments when everything clicks and everyone is playing in unison. It’s awe inspiring.”

Although she’s a four-year veteran of the youth orchestra and a talented flutist, Sarah plans to attend Georgia Tech to study industrial design and communications.

Like her fellow Fetter Award winners, Zoey, a cellist and senior graduating Bacon County High School, said she was grateful to have been honored by the Golden Isles Youth Orchestra and looked back fondly on three years she’s spent as a member.

“Everyone really cares about the music,” Zoey said. “Everyone does their best, and it creates a lot of positive peer pressure.”

She also appreciates the opportunities the orchestra has offered her, including giving her the background she needs to attend Jacksonville University in Florida this fall, where she plans to study music performance.

“I love the feeling you get when you put your all into the music, and you know you did your best,” she said. “In the end, the work pays off.”

Although not every senior was given the Fetter Award this year, five other seniors will graduate and say goodbye to their orchestra mates.

Tuba player Aaron Canty, a senior at Brunswick High School, plans to attend College of Coastal Georgia to study accounting, while violist Tristen Dirst plans to attend the University of Georgia to study mechanical engineering and computer science.

Jocelyn Julio, a third year member of the youth orchestra and violist, will attend Georgia State University in Atlanta this fall and study pre-law after graduating Glynn Academy.

Co-concertmaster and violinist Julianna Mallette, in her fourth year as an orchestra member, will study chemistry at the University of Georgia this fall and percussionist Jack McCrary is aiming for a career in architecture, and plans to attend Georgia Tech this fall.

While many of the young musicians may not pursue a career in performing arts, Sarah said the lessons taught in rehearsals are about more than melodies and rhythms.

“Orchestra has been a great experience, and its valuable to surround yourself with people who are interested in the same things you are,” Sarah said. “You’re always getting better, and you’re always learning. You just have to push yourself.”

For more information about the Golden Isles Youth Orchestra, visit the group’s website at or call 634-3453.