It all started when...

In 1997, Ypsilanti School District string teacher William R. Hayes, University of Michigan professor of engineering Bernard A. Galler, and pianist Ruth Shanberge were inspired to provide a full orchestra experience for young musicians attending area secondary schools that did not provide that opportunity. They chose to make it free to the students with no formal audition, so that anyone who wanted to play could do so—student “auditioning the orchestra,” in a manner of speaking. One of the goals was to help children learn to appreciate various musical genres and become engaged community members and lifelong learners. After working over a year to develop the concept, rationale, and mission statement, then incorporating, acquiring legal representation, insurance, and 501(c)3 status, they invited secondary school band students as well as Mr. Hayes’ string students to join the new orchestra. Seventeen children performed the first concert of the Ypsilanti Youth Orchestra (YYO) in December 1999.

To help the organization grow after its first six years, beginning string, wind, and percussion pre-orchestra classes were added. The significance of these pre-orchestra classes was obvious when the Ypsilanti School District discontinued its string classes, leaving no assumed source of new students. For two summers, classes were held for a dozen beginning wind and percussion students as part of an annual day camp for low-income families. These students were outfitted with flutes, clarinets, saxophones, and drums. In the fall, most of them joined the small-group classes provided by the YYO.  From the outset of the YYO, the Bernard A. Galler String Quartet was a part of the organization, and when students showed interest in playing jazz, the Jazz Ensemble was created. Over the years, several other ensembles were formed. Since 1999, the YYO has performed annual spring and fall concerts, at the University of Michigan and St. Joseph Mercy Hospitals, and at Ypsilanti District Library concerts. For seven years, the orchestra has even marched in the Ypsilanti Heritage Festival parade. The Jazz Ensemble has played many community venues, and is under the direction of guitarist Steve Somers.

Since the YYO has never been a part of the Ypsilanti School District, support from various partners and members of the community has made the program a success. Early funding from corporations, local businesses, service clubs, and, most of all, individual contributions helped keep the organization afloat. The YYO is especially grateful to the Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation and Ypsilanti Area Community Foundation for help with acquiring instruments and other vital expenses. These foundations also included the YYO among a group of non-profit participants in the 2014 Give Local Match Day, which provided the YYO with an asset surplus that it has maintained since that time. The YYO advisory board, the parents, and other stakeholders remember the original mission was to provide a full orchestra experience free of charge to area students who might not otherwise have the opportunity. Now over 220 students participate in the orchestra, pre-orchestra classes, and ensembles, living up to our motto: It’s all for the children.