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Mission & History

We're all about the musicians

BYO is a full symphonic orchestra program whose mission is to foster the musical abilities and personal growth of dedicated young musicians in grades 4-12 throughout the greater Bay Area by providing a nurturing environment and the highest quality opportunities in both rehearsal and performance in an orchestra setting.

... and have been since 1969

Sally Kell, one of the first female conductors in the nation, founded the Berkeley Youth Orchestra in 1969 to showcase the talents of the younger brothers and sisters of East Bay high school musicians. BYO offered elementary and middle school students a full symphony orchestra experience that they lacked in their schools. Subsequent conductors Yair Strauss, J. Karla Lemon, John MacLean, Judith Williams Gartrell and Ann Krinitsky led the ensemble through more than 30 years of strong musical accomplishment.

Our current Artistic Director and Conductor, Jay Lehmann, started at BYO as a parent: in 1994 his daughter played at our 25th Anniversary Concert. In 1999 he volunteered to help the coach of the brass section, and the following year he coached the brass section. In 2002 he secured our current facilities at the Laney College, and in 2003 he became our conductor!

Under Jay’s leadership, BYO became what it is today. Jay’s vision of coaches supporting all sections of the orchestra materialized into the “Artists-in-Residence” program. Our Artists in Residence are present at every rehearsal to teach, serve as role models and support our members. AiR enables our Chamber Program, where our young musicians showcase their hard work and talent by playing in a smaller ensemble. Today BYO serves about 100 young musicians from about 20 different cities of the Bay Area, many of them sponsored through our scholarship program.

BYO is the first full symphony orchestra experience for many Bay Area young musicians. We teach them music as well as discipline and teamwork. We also give them the opportunity to shine in our Chamber Program. And our community of parents teach by example, volunteering at BYO and demonstrating what it means to be an active member of a caring and supportive musical community.

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