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ESYO provides music in the mall to raise money

"For a $5 ticket, you can win some really nice merchandise," Torrey said.

Beyond raising money, ESYO looks at the Playathon as a way to raise awareness of what it offers. Torrey said many people know the orchestra from its participation in CBS 6's "Melodies of Christmas," televised benefit concerts for the child cancer program at Albany Medical Center.

But those who never see any of the group's 30 or so public performances a year are often unaware of just how diverse and varied its offerings are.

For example, ESYO's city Strings and City Brass Instrument Training Programs provide free private music lessons to inner-city students in Albany, Schenectady and Troy middle schools. Torrey noted that those students don't often have a chance to perform together as an ensemble; they get that chance at the Playathon.

"What it does is provide an opprtunity to get up on an equal playing field with kids from a more privileged background," she said.

As a result, some of those inner-city kids have fallen so in love with music that they have gone on to audition for and join ESYO, often drawing on the scholarship money that events like the Playathon help raise.

To attract other young musicians, the Playathon will also feature a "musical petting zoo." Set up by John Keal Music Co., the zoo will feature a double bass, trumpet and other instruments.

"Kids can come up and try them out," Torrey said.

All the action takes place on the lower level near the former Macy's storefront. "We just kind of take over the whole thing," Torrey said with a laugh. "We set up there. We bring in chairs. We have a truck that comes in with our percussion instruments. It's a major, major undertaking."

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