Kaitlyn Ruiter, a senior at Northport High School, plays double...

Kaitlyn Ruiter, a senior at Northport High School, plays double bass on the album that won best orchestral performance at the Grammys. Credit: Northport-East Northport School District/Northport-East Northport School District

Northport High School senior Kaitlyn Ruiter was in medical anatomy class on Nov. 15 when Michael Susinno, the school's orchestra director, pulled her out to deliver the news: The New York Youth Symphony album on which she had played had been nominated for a Grammy Award for best orchestral performance.

Then Sunday, watching the televised awards ceremony with her parents and her younger brother, the 17-year-old saw the record become part of a class by itself. The album "Florence Price, Jessie Montgomery, Valerie Coleman," conducted by the orchestra's music director, Michael Repper, became the first by a youth orchestra ever to win a Grammy.

"We watched the whole thing since we didn't know when the category was going to come up," Ruiter, who plays double bass, tells Newsday by phone the next day. "I was really nervous. As soon as I heard them say the first word of the album's name I was, like, 'Ohmigod!' My mom and dad were screaming. I got kind of emotional — I was crying a little bit." The conductor and the New York Youth Symphony itself will each receive the physical Grammy statuette.

One of dozens of musicians age12 to 22 that make up the Manhattan-based nonprofit organization's youth orchestra, Ruiter had looked forward to performing in the symphony's three annual Carnegie Hall concerts when she joined it in mid-2020. But at the height of the  COVID-19 pandemic, she recalls, "We found out that September that Carnegie Hall wasn’t allowing any performers that year. Everything was really restricted." Repper came up with another option, making an album — the 70-year-old orchestra's first.

After obtaining the symphony's support, "He found these four really great pieces instead of our traditional repertory that we were doing to do for Carnegie Hall," Ruiter says, referring to "Umoja: Anthem of Unity for Orchestra" by Valerie Coleman, "Soul Force" by Jessie Montgomery — each piece making its world premiere — and the late Florence Price's "Piano Concerto in One Movement" and the three-movement "Ethiopia's Shadow in America."

Under producer Judy Sherman, a 13-time Grammy winner, the youth symphony that November spent "three recording days, seven to eight hours a day," Ruiter says, at Manhattan's DiMenna Center for Classical Music. The album, on the Avie Records label, was released April 8, 2022, a day shy of the 115th anniversary of Price's birth.

Ruiter — the daughter of dad Walter, vice president of catastrophe management for Chubb, and mom Anna, a pharmaceutical manager — has played double bass since the summer before fourth grade at Norwood Avenue Elementary School. Students there had the option of choosing an instrument to play, Kaitlyn Ruiter recalls, and "one day I was sitting in my family room with my parents and I said, I want to play the bass. It was just random," she adds with a chuckle.

She stuck with it, performing with youth orchestras and elsewhere, and in summer 2020 successfully auditioned over Zoom for a spot with the New York Youth Symphony. And while her brother James, a freshman, plays percussion in their high school's marching band, their musical ability seems a mystery.

"No one else that we know of in my family plays an instrument," Kaitlyn Ruiter says.


In addition to Ruiter, another Northport High School alumna earned a Grammy this year. Stephanie Economou, now of Los Angeles, won the Recording Academy's first specific award for best score soundtrack for video games and other interactive media, as the composer for Assassin's Creed Valhalla: Dawn of Ragnarok.

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