In 1956, a number of visionary leaders within the Junior League, Rotary of Milwaukee and the War Memorial wisely determined that Milwaukee needed to develop arts opportunities for the community’s young people. With support from all three institutions, the Children’s Arts Program was created—and along with it the Capsters, a fledgling orchestra of 30 eager young musicians. From that erstwhile group, Music For Youth (MFY) was eventually born, incorporating in 1960; MFY became a charter member of Milwaukee’s United Performing Arts Fund (UPAF) in 1969, later moving into the brand new Performing Arts Center (now the Marcus Center) as an anchor tenant, changing its name to Milwaukee Youth Symphony Orchestra (MYSO) in 1988, to better describe the organization’s activities and locale.
Along the way, MFY/MYSO grew to a membership of about 400 in 1988. In the mid-1990s it became clear that in order to take the next steps artistically and programmatically, MYSO would need to find new spaces--venues that could accommodate larger ensembles, provide educationally and acoustically appropriate rehearsal space, and allow for program growth in new, much needed directions.
In 2005, MYSO moved into the acclaimed Milwaukee Youth Arts Center, a collaborative initiative of MYSO and First Stage. Home to dance and vocal music training programs, as well, this 56,000 sq. ft. state of the art facility in Milwaukee’s historic Schlitz Park has become a national model for arts education, with a mission of using the arts to enhance all children’s lives. Several innovative MYSO offerings, prompted and made possible by the move, have received notable awards and recognition, particularly for MYSO’s ambitious efforts in outreach and community partnerships.
MYSO, which celebrated its fiftieth anniversary in 2006, has grown from a single orchestra of thirty to become, by several measures, one of the largest and most extensive youth orchestra program in the country. Serving 1,000 talented young musicians from as many as 14 counties, 60 communities and more than 200 schools in southeastern Wisconsin, MYSO’s extensive schedule of rehearsals, performances, outreach initiatives and enrichment opportunities also includes a large chamber music program, theory and composition classes, free masterclasses, workshops, competitions and much more.
In 2008, MYSO proudly received the Governor’s Award in Support of the Arts, largely in recognition of our extensive and successful diversity initiatives. In 2007, MYSO was awarded UPAF’s Northwestern Mutual Management Excellence Award for having attained the highest management score of UPAF’s numerous groups. It has won the UPAF award for outstanding financial management several times, having continually increased the operational budget and running two additional successful campaigns without creating a deficit.
In addition to the 1,000 talented young musicians enrolled today, the organization also impacts an additional 5,000 children annually through its extensive community concert series, and more than 18,000 collective audience members each year. Employing more than 50 of the region’s finest music educators and teaching artists to implement its life-changing programming, MYSO also directly impacts hundreds of private music instructors and school music programs throughout the area.