Tulsa Youth Symphony Orchestra: A Classical Act for 49 Years

Practically every weekend Cheeho Kim drives east on the Turner Turnpike from Oklahoma City to his home in Jenks. The Oklahoma School of Science and Math senior makes the trek so he can join his fellow Tulsa Youth Symphony Orchestra (TYSO) musicians at Sunday rehearsal.

“This is where a lot of my friends are so it is important for me to come back for practice every Sunday,” said Kim, now in his sixth year with TYSO.

A violinist, Kim is the TYSO Concertmaster or first violinist, a title he earned through years of practice and a demanding audition. “The highlight of being the Concert Master,” smiled Kim, “is at the beginning of a concert getting to walk on stage last while all the other musicians are seated.”

“Everyone claps for you and you get to shake the hand of the conductor,” he said.

Now in its 49th season, TYSO provides advanced orchestral training and performance experience for young musicians in Northeastern Oklahoma. Currently over 150 students ages 10 to 18 participate in two TYSO orchestras, the concert orchestra and the symphony orchestra.

Ron Wheeler, TYSO executive director and conductor, said all student musicians must try out for the symphony orchestra each year. “Everyone starts from scratch each year. Our youth symphony is comprised mainly of junior and seniors in high school but scattered within the musicians are some younger talents from eighth grade.”

In 2003 an additional ensemble, the concert orchestra, was added to create space for the number of young musicians seeking a place in TYSO.

“We had such a demand that we added the concert orchestra,” Wheeler said. “It now serves as a stepping stone for younger musicians who want to eventually perform with the symphony orchestra. We have very accomplished youth musicians. Many of our students have gone on to seek music degrees in college and now perform with orchestras throughout the country.”

Weekly practice is held each Sunday afternoon at Oral Roberts University’s Barton-Timko performance hall. Besides the Sunday practice, all members of TYSO are required to play with their high school band or orchestra program unless they are home-schooled or their school does not have a program. Most of the musicians also study with a private instructor.

TYSO Violinist Hannah Gray is in her third year with TYSO. “This is my first year to play with the symphony orchestra. I was thrilled to make it,” said the home- schooled sophomore. “I have made so many friends here. I always look forward to coming to practice.” Gray also takes private lessons and plays in her church orchestra.

Student musician’s parents play a vital role in TYSO. Parents help with promotional work for concerts, handle concert mailings, act as ushers during a concert and hold receptions after a performance.

Parent Tresa Johnson said her son, Leo, is a second-generation TYSO member.  “My husband Bill played the cello with the symphony when he was in high school.  Our son Leo plays percussion,” Johnson said. “We have a great group of parents who always step up to help and support the organization.”

TYSO performs three formal concerts each year as well as a play-a-thon in March at Woodland Hills Mall to raise money for the organization.

To learn more about TYSO visit their website at www.tyso.org