Tulsa Youth Symphony

Our History

The Tulsa Youth Symphony began as an educational wing of the Tulsa Philharmonic Society in 1963. The first conductor was Max Waits, Principal Flute of the Philharmonic at that time. The 78-member Youth Symphony presented its Debut Concert on February 15, 1964 in the Tulsa Municipal Theater (now the Brady Theater). Featured soloist was YS Principal Trumpet, Phil Driscoll, now a well-known Christian pop artist.

Robert McNally, Principal Second Violin of the Philharmonic, became the Youth Symphony conductor in 1966. When Mr. McNally became Concertmaster of the Philharmonic and Violin Instructor at the University of Tulsa 6 years later, TYS named Ron Wheeler as conductor. Mr. McNally returned in 2010 as special guest conductor at the February Alumni Concert.

To open the program to more area students, an additional ensemble, the Concert Orchestra, was added to the program in 2003. In Spring of 2016, a Preparatory String Orchestra was added. Currently TYS has five conductors: Ronald Wheeler and Richard Wagner, Symphony Orchestra Conductors; Pete Peterson, Concert Orchestra Conductor; and Michael Nicholson and Amelia Ivory, Preparatory Orchestra Conductors.

Former TYS members have gone on to perform with the Chicago Symphony, the Cincinnati Symphony, the Cleveland Orchestra, the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, the National Symphony and the San Francisco Symphony, among others. Youth Symphony graduates have attended the Juilliard School, the Curtis Institute, the Cleveland Institute, the Eastman School of Music, and Harvard, among many other prestigious universities.

Since 2003, the Youth Symphony has been an independent organization, with major support from the Albert and Hete Barthelmes Foundation. All other funds are raised by students, parents and staff, as well as through ticket sales.