The Yellow Springs Youth Orchestra Association was started in 1964 as way to provide instruments, lessons and scholarships to students in the Yellow Springs area, which at the time didn’t offer orchestra instruction in the schools, said Dennis Farmer, program director for the association.
The association was the idea of Shirley Mullins, a music enthusiast, who was new to the Yellow Springs area, and her friend Mary Schumacher
“I did not want to come here (Yellow Springs) because they didn’t have an orchestra. But I told myself, if you move where there is no orchestra, then you build one. So I built an orchestra,” Mullins said this week during a rehearsal.
About 25 children showed up after Mullins ran and ad in the local newspaper seeking students for start-up orchestra, Mullins said. Now, about 70 children participate in the orchestra, she added.
“I am so excited, I cannot believe it has been 50 years,” said Mullins.
Mullins taught orchestra, chamber music and cello at Yellow Springs High School before retiring in 2000.
“It is very exciting to teach children who one: want to practice; two: who love to learn; and three: who just want to have fun with music,” said Mullins.
Over the years, YSYOA has evolved, according to Farmer, a former Yellow Springs public school teacher, who now teaches at the Antioch School and gives private music lessons.
“It was the strings camp, then it became the strings and band camp. Now it’s the summer music camp,” Farmer said, adding that chorals are being incorporated into the program.
YSYOA’s influence is evident around town, Farmer said. About one quarter of the instruments used by students in the area schools are owned by the association; Yellow Springs has three adult orchestra groups that perform regularly that he said wouldn’t exist without YSYOA; and about 10 to 20 percent of the Yellow Springs population has participated in the programs, Farmer said.
The association has also held master classes and brought in professional musicians, according to Farmer.
Sonia Cawood said her daughters have participated in the YSYOA programs with Mullins.
“She didn’t ask my daughters if they wanted to play, she asked them which instrument are you playing,” Cawood, a Yellow Springs resident, said.
Yellow Springs resident Jennifer Branlat also praised the program.
“Shirley’s approach makes it something that my son looks forward to every week,” Branlat said. “Now when people ask my son if he is a cello player his response is, ‘No I am a Cellist’”, Branlat said.
Farmer estimated that about 3,500 students have gone through the program.
“Kids come here who were very shy and lacking in self-confidence, and leave the camp with confidence and a deeper appreciation for music,” said Farmer.
“I am hopeful that we can continue another 50 years,” he said.