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 transformed the organization 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 commitment to access and inclusion in all programs.
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, YOSA (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 professional symphony. YOSA Chamber Orchestra, inaugurated 1986, also performs a side-by-side concert with musical mentors 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), England (2012), Quebec (2014), Vienna, Prague, and Budapest (2016), Canary Islands and Spain (2018), and a concert tour to the US East Coast (2020).
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 camp was renamed “YOSA Summer Symphony Camp” and now includes sessions for high school band and full orchestra, middle school string orchestra, Orchestra X, composition seminar, and string quartet seminar.
In 1997, YOSA created the Junior String Orchestra. 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.
Today, YOSA Orchestras include nine orchestras: two full orchestras, a flute choir, a wind ensemble, and five string orchestras. YOSA School Partnerships provide free services to dozens of schools. YOSA Summer Symphony Camp provides quality musical experiences to young musicians in San Antonio and the surrounding areas.