A youth orchestra is an organization that provides training to young musicians, typically for those eight to 18 years old, in a setting that mimics a professional orchestra. Youth orchestras are most popular in the US and Europe, although they can also be found in other parts of the world. They are commonly located in large metropolitan areas, but smaller towns may also have youth orchestra programs. Orchestra membership ranges from competitive to inclusive, and funding for the program and cost to the student may vary depending on the type of orchestra.
Some cities have several orchestras with various levels of competitiveness within a single organization. There may be one inclusive orchestra that all interested students may join regardless of their experience or skill, one or more that is by audition only, or several orchestras that are broken up by age or years of experience. Some organizations also provide instrument-training programs for inner city or low-income students.
On the competitive end of the spectrum, some youth orchestra rehearsals are structured much like professional rehearsals. Just as in a professional setting, members of a high-end youth orchestra are often expected to teach themselves the music to a large extent before beginning rehearsal for a particular program. The orchestra is often conducted by a professional conductor rather than a music teacher. Students are expected to receive most of their basic musical instruction outside of full orchestra rehearsals, since the rehearsals tend to focus on unity of performance rather than on training individual musicians. This type of orchestra’s purpose is to actively prepare students for orchestral careers.
Youth orchestras are typically funded through a combination of fundraising, concert ticket sales, and tuition fees. While most charge some form of tuition, some orchestras produce a full season of concerts that covers a majority of the costs. Others are even able to raise funds for other non-profit organizations through holding benefit concerts.
Regardless of the level of orchestra, involvement provides an additional opportunity for youth to hone their musical skills outside of school. Participating in a competitive youth orchestra provides valuable experience for young people who may have interest in pursing musical careers. All willing students, however, may benefit from the teamwork and self-discipline needed to participate in a youth orchestra.