YOSA traces its roots to the San Antonio Youth Symphony, created in 1949 by G. Lewis Doll, music director of the San Antonio Independent School District. This orchestra soon came to include musicians from schools outside SAISD. In the early 1960s, the Junior Youth Symphony was formed for younger students.
A city grant in 1974 occasioned the organization’s transformation into the independent Greater San Antonio Youth Symphony Orchestras (GSAYSO). GSAYSO opened beginning strings education centers in underserved areas around San Antonio, the foundation for YOSA’s free beginning music education program today, know as YOSA MÁS:Music After School.
In 1977, a group of parents created the Youth Philharmonic Orchestra, chartering it as a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization. The two organizations combined in 1979, adopting today’s name, Youth Orchestras of San Antonio, with two full orchestras, the YOSA Philharmonic and Symphony.
In 1979, Harvey Biskin, Education Director and Assistant Conductor of the San Antonio Symphony, initiated “side-by-side” concerts with the Symphony. YOSA’s Chamber Orchestra, inaugurated in 1986, likewise performs an annual side-by-side concert with musicians from the San Antonio Symphony.
YOSA undertook its first international tour in 1985, visiting Austria and Hungary. This was followed by trips to Poland, Austria, and Hungary (1989), Germany (1995), Australia (1998), France (2001), Italy and Germany (2004), Finland, Estonia, and Russia (2007), China (2010), and England (2012).
The YOSA Summer String Camp was first held in 1985. With children ages 8 to 18 participating over two weeks, it has grown to become the largest and most comprehensive day-camp in the region. In 2012, the YOSA camp was renamed the YOSA Summer Symphony Camp and now includes full orchestra opportunities for strings, woodwinds, brass, and percussion.
In 1997, YOSA created the Junior String Orchestra, now with two levels called Capriccio Strings and Sinfonietta Strings. The following year, a free Neighborhood Strings Program (with loaned instruments) was offered for beginning students, moving in 2002 to the city’s west side through a collaboration with Good Samaritan Community Services. In 2005, an entry-level string orchestra, Prelude Strings, was created for younger students. The Music Learning Center began in 2009, a daily after-school program inspired by the El Sistema model expanding the number of students served and supporting our Board’s desire to reach more children who otherwise would have limited access to study music. The program was relaunched and rebranded as YOSA MÁS in January 2013.
Today, YOSA encompasses several programs, including six orchestras: three strings-only groups, a flute choir, and two full orchestras that include woodwinds, brass, and percussion. In addition, YOSA MÁS and the Summer Symphony Camp provide quality musical experiences to young musicians in San Antonio and the surrounding areas. YOSA School Partnerships focus extensively on schools in the Roosevelt Compact, but reach out to other schools in other districts.