The Peninsula Youth Orchestra (PYO) was founded in 1997 by Sara Salsbury, Director of Preparatory Orchestras and General Manager, and Mitchell Sardou Klein, Music Director. Established as a public benefit organization to serve San Mateo County, membership grew quickly in the early years, and has been stable in recent years in spite of the difficult economy. PYO is one of the few youth orchestras in the entire Bay Area to provide a comprehensive, sequential program of instrumental music instruction to students whose skill levels range from beginning to advanced, and ages 6 to 18. PYO has twice been recognized by the California Arts Council for our “ongoing arts in education programs, engaging young people through sequential, hands-on activities.” Last month (March 22, 2012), Sara Salsbury was inducted into the San Mateo County Women’s Hall of Fame in recognition of her service to the community as a music educator and for “creating the Peninsula Youth Orchestra, a program of quality and breadth that helps young musicians flourish and contributes to the cultural life of San Mateo County.”
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Across California, instrumental music education is withering from lack of public school funding. Ironically, at the same time, scientific proof is mounting that shows the value of musical training to all areas of learning, development of social skills, and in fact to the development of the human brain. Not to mention the self-esteem that flows from a “hands on” involvement in music. The need is clear.
As the only youth orchestra based in San Mateo County, PYO provides a unique platform for musical growth, personal growth, and performance opportunities for the youth of the northern mid-peninsula. While we cannot single-handedly offset the loss of musical training befalling many public schools, we can provide an instrumental music resource of high quality and comprehensive scope for our communities.
PYO serves an economically diverse community. One of our top objectives is to enable any musically qualified student to participate regardless of their financial resources. We strive to keep our membership fees affordable for all families, and offer scholarship assistance to qualified students with demonstrated financial need. Support of underserved students in San Mateo County is one of our top priorities. During the 2010-11 season, we granted nearly $17,000 in membership scholarships to 37 students with demonstrated financial need. No legitimate requests were turned down. This season we are on-track to grant scholarships at the same level. As a related matter, last season we utilized a small portion of our cash reserves to purchase additional instruments for students’ use, bringing our total “loaner” inventory to 23 instruments.
Our membership fees cover only ~60% of our annual operating expenses, the balance coming primarily from individual donations and foundation grants. Strong support from institutions dedicated to community service, like The Borel Private Bank and Trust Company, is important to our success. Program Content and Scope.
PYO is comprised of four full orchestras, plus smaller string and flute ensembles and chamber music groups. Altogether we serve approximately 450 musicians, ages 6-18. All musicians study traditional orchestral repertoire with an emphasis on contemporary literature and works by American composers. Our performing groups range in size from 70-120 students for the symphonic orchestras, down to 2-6 students for chamber music. All groups rehearse weekly from September through early June, and perform several formal concerts each season. We rent rehearsal facilities at three local schools (Carlmont High School , Belmont-Redwood Shores Elementary School), and McKinley School in Redwood City), through special arrangements with the respective school districts. We give most of our concerts in the new Carlmont Performing Arts Center in Belmont, which we are honored to call our “concert home.”
Our orchestras form a hierarchy of musical proficiency, from beginning to advanced level. Students progress at their own pace, encouraged by a caring and supportive staff of two conductors and five coaches. The Preparatory Orchestras are directed by Sara Salsbury (herself a string specialist), assisted by a team of coaches proficient in the other instrument groups (woodwind, brass, and percussion). Our most advanced orchestra is led by Music Director Mitchell Sardou Klein, acclaimed Bay Area conductor. We also draw upon a host of local professional musicians to provide separate rehearsals for each section of instruments (violins, violas, cellos, etc.).
In addition to our regular season activities, each summer also offer the Peninsula Music Camp. These popular sessions, open to regular members, new members and community musicians at large, provide instrumental music training, from beginning level to advanced, within a fun-filled day-camp framework. We have found this summer program to be an important part of our community outreach, and an effective way to introduce prospective new members to our program.
Administratively, PYO is served by a small but dedicated staff, augmented by a team of well organized volunteers. Our highly involved board of directors is comprised of carefully selected members of diverse professional backgrounds who provide oversight and guidance, and who often pitch in to help with hands-on projects. Financially, PYO manages expenses carefully, works hard to achieve its income goals, and as a result maintains a strong balance sheet. We are proud of our record of achieving a balanced budget every year except one during our fourteen year history.
PYO primarily serves communities on the mid-peninsula. The majority of our members reside in San Mateo County (70%) and Santa Clara County (25%). A few reside in San Francisco (4%) and Alameda County (1%). Our musicians and their families come from a wide variety of economic means and ethnic backgrounds including Asian, Asian-Indian, African, Hispanic, and white/European. Our audiences are also drawn from a wide variety of ethnic backgrounds, reflecting our served communities.
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