The Gabriel Chamber Ensemble (GCE) and Gabriel Youth Orchestra (GYO) which recently performed a holiday program at the Tamaqua Salvation Army, are always ready to encourage local musical talent.

The GCE, which is now celebrating its 22nd season of chamber music performances, routinely entertains audiences in Schuylkill County with works by Widor, Ornstein, Strauss, Saint-Saens and about 120 other composers, compiling a shared repertoire of about 350 classical pieces.

"Our mission is to provide Schuylkill County and surrounding communities with classical and contemporary chamber music of the highest professional standards, foster growth in local chamber music appreciation, and encourage young people in their attendance, and involvement with this important musical form," said Agnès Maurer of New Ringgold, the ensemble executive director.

The GCE has created and currently participates in multiple self-made and community educational outreach programs.

One of the programs, Strings in Schools, is offered in three parts, involving introduction to the family of strings, music ambassadors teaching youth and sharing music from around the world.

Mauer said another elementary school educational program, called "Chamber Music for Children," is designed for kindergarten though sixth graders.

"Students are able to participate in a demonstration of the important elements heard in the music and have an opportunity to interact with the musicians and actors during a question and answer period. We created this presentation to capture the imaginations of young audiences while introducing many to their first live performance of chamber music," said Maurer.

To respond to this need, the GCE expanded its education and youth program to involve more children into classical music. The ensemble's latest initiative, which started September of last year, is called "String Starter Explosion," and allows students to have the opportunity to express their innate talent and interest in playing a string instrument.

The GCE is now sponsoring a program of string instruction, in which Simon Maurer, ensemble instructor, will be teaching group classes from grades one through five at several locations in Schuylkill County, including Pottsville (Yuengling Mansion), Tamaqua (LCCC Morgan Center of Scheller Student Center), Kempton (New Church School), and New Ringgold (Bear Crossing Music Studio).

"Our Gabriel Youth Orchestra, which was established in 2010 under the auspices of our Gabriel Chamber Ensemble, is open to young musicians grades seven to 12, and provides an opportunity for high schools students from throughout the region to play in a professionally managed and conducted setting," said Maurer. "Open primarily to young musicians, our Gabriel Youth Orchestra is the very foundation of our organization's educational efforts."

This orchestra, formed in 2010, and conducted by John F. Potlunas, strives to enhance the talents of serious young musicians, added Maurer. Potlunas is a retired band director from Tamaqua High School and was also director of the Schuylkill Youth Symphony Orchestra for 18 years.

"Our GYO is the only available outlet for young musicians to assemble in full orchestral mode, with the string instruments differentiating the ensemble from the many 'bands' that exist at the high school level and in the community," Maurer said.

The GYO meets for rehearsals on Wednesdays from 5:30 to 7 p.m., and presents two annual concerts in Pottsville as well as a special education concert for all Schuylkill County fourth graders. This orchestra is funded by the Gabriel Chamber Ensemble organization, by ticket and advertising revenues as well as individual, corporate and foundation support, governmental and other grants.

Maurer said musicians of all ages are welcome to join the Gabriel Chamber Ensemble or Gabriel Youth Orchestra. For more information visit www.gabrielensemble.org or call Maurer at (570) 943-2558.