The Tallahassee Youth Orchestras began in 1990 as an affiliate of the Tallahassee Symphony Orchestra (TSO). At the time there were no string programs in the Leon County public schools, though the Florida State University School of Music offered beginning string classes for Tallahassee’s young people.
That year, FSU College of Music Dean Robert Glidden and Assistant Dean Jon Piersol approached doctoral string student Linda French Bell about her willingness to form a citywide string program in partnership with the Tallahassee Symphony Orchestra.
Subsequent meetings with Anne Hodges, Executive Director of the Tallahassee Symphony Orchestra, and eventually the TSO Board of Directors led to the bold and visionary step to form an affiliate organization called the “Tallahassee Symphony Youth Orchestras” (TSYO).
This early partnership between the existing FSU string program and the TSO was the start of what has remained an important and admirable relationship between what is now the College of Music and the youth orchestra program.
Under the capable direction of Ms. Bell, the youth orchestra program quadrupled in size, formed a parents’ council, and organized into the basic structure it retains today: a “Beginners” string group, first led by Loretta Akins (now orchestra director in Ohio), then Susan Strauss Thompson (who retired as a Leon County public school string teacher in 2008) and later co-taught by Ms. Thompson and Melissa Brewer (area studio instructor and performer with the TSO, Tallahassee Bach Parley and Atlanta Baroque Orchestra), is now called “Orchestra Fundamentals.” Other ensembles formed during this time—“Symphonic Strings,” “Philharmonia,” and “Senior Orchestra” (now called “Symphony”)—remain part of the organization to this day.
On behalf of the youth orchestra program, Ms. Bell also administrated and hosted the North Florida String Festival each March, which boasted an annual attendance of over 250 students and culminated in a massed-orchestra performance. Further, as a key member of the Committee for Strings in Schools, formed in 1992 and chaired by FSU College of Music Assistant Dean George Riordan, Ms. Bell was instrumental in developing and implementing the first string programs in Leon County Public Schools, which were launched in 1993. In her broadminded approach to string and orchestra education and her commitment to helping these programs grow in the public schools, Ms. Bell was a model director whose legacy is still felt clearly today.
Therefore in 1995 when Dr. Michael Allen, Professor of Music Education at the FSU College of Music, inherited the youth orchestra program and became its second Music Director, the foundations were laid for an exceptional educational experience for Tallahassee’s youth. In his five-year tenure with the organization, Dr. Allen brought a wealth of pedagogical knowledge to the program and expanded the infrastructure so that FSU string students not only served as coaches for the Senior Orchestra (Symphony), but also performed with its members in a “side-by-side” fashion.
Further, Dr. Allen saw the need to create an ensemble that could easily travel throughout the community to perform in a variety of venues and therefore formed the “Tallahassee Fiddlers,” which to this day remains wildly popular with students and audiences alike and is unique among youth orchestra programs. The first Fiddlers Director, Mr. Jimmy Gillis, who was a student at FSU when the Fiddlers first began, still resides in Tallahassee and currently teaches in the Leon County Public Schools.
In 2000, Dr. Alexander Jiménez, Director of Orchestral Studies at FSU, succeeded Dr. Allen as Music Director of the TSYO (and director of the TSYO Symphony). Under his guidance the youth orchestra program has continued to grow both financially and artistically by, among other things, adding a chamber music program and fifth ensemble called “Chamber Orchestra,” commissioning a work exclusively for the senior-level Symphony, and by gaining recognition as one of the important youth orchestra programs in Florida. Further, auditions for the Symphony have become increasingly competitive and the ensemble draws students from not only Tallahassee but all of Northern Florida and Southern Georgia.
Dr. Jiménez has also greatly expanded the artistic staff, culminating in the hiring of Mr. Chris Miller as Associate Music Director and Director of the Chamber Orchestra in 2007. Mr. Miller represents one of a cadre of talented ensemble directors who are noted music educators, a fact that confirms the youth orchestra program’s continued commitment to fostering its relationship with the Leon County Public Schools.
In 2008, because the TSYO had grown in size and ambition, the TSO rewrote its bylaws to allow for the creation of a TSYO Advisory Board whose purpose was solely to guide and oversee TSYO activities. This proved to be an intermediary step in the youth orchestra’s journey towards independence, and in 2009 the youth orchestra filed articles of incorporation to become a stand-alone entity, legally separate from its TSO parent.
Today’s organization—the Tallahassee Youth Orchestras, Inc.—consists of several vibrant ensembles and serves over 150 families. The TYO employs some of the area’s brightest and best professional music educators and boasts a large number of parent volunteers and active board of directors. As it has since the 1990s, the TYO is also staffed by music majors from Florida State University’s distinguished College of Music, each of whom exhibit a deep commitment to music pedagogy. Residency projects, such as the 2009 visit of crossover violinist/composer Daniel Bernard Roumain (DBR), represent the TYO’s desire to bring exceptional artistic experiences to its student body and to meet the needs of our wonderfully diverse community. Guided by a dedicated team, the program seeks to build on the legacy of all who have helped shape this vitally important community program.