63 Years of BYSO
The Binghamton Youth Symphony was organized to afford Southern Tier students the opportunity to perform in an orchestra, which would supplement the education they were getting in local school programs. Richard McCutchan, the chairman of the music department of the Binghamton City School District, was instrumental in procuring school support and sponsorship for this orchestra. The Binghamton City School District has continued their support for these 62 years.
BYSO was organized in 1961, and held their first official rehearsal on September 18, 1962 with Sanford H. Reuning on the podium. There were more than 60 players from many of the area schools in New York and Pennsylvania. Their first concert was on December 1, 1962. A reviewer from the local newspaper called the performance “impressive.” Several of the first concerts also featured Conrad Ross as assistant conductor. Both Ross and Reuning were members of the instrumental music faculty of the Binghamton City School District.
The orchestra continued to thrive under Reuning’s baton until he left BCSD to teach at Ithaca High School (and eventually at Ithaca College). Reuning’s replacement was David Einfeldt. During his tenure, the orchestra continued to grow in numbers and quality. They made their first performance outside of Binghamton when they played at the New York World’s Fair, Rockefeller Center and New York University. Einfeldt was also a member of the BCSD’s instrumental music faculty.
A Lasting Legacy
The next two conductors associated with the orchestra had a tenure which will never be equaled. Bernard J. Shifrin was named the conductor of the senior orchestra in the 1966-67 school year and remained in the position for 34 years. In that same school year, Russell Colton was hired to form and conduct a training orchestra for the senior ensemble. Colton remained the only director of the Junior orchestra for 41 years until his passing in 2008. Both Colton and Shifrin were members of the Binghamton City School District instrumental music faculty and were also active performers in many of the bands and orchestras in the Binghamton area.
"Introduction to the Orchestra" Concerts Begin
Under Mr. Shifrin’s direction, the orchestra added additional playing venues besides the annual January and May concerts. Their most successful endeavor was the Introduction to the Orchestra concerts. This concert began as a free concert for area school children during the traditional “Music in our Schools” month of March. With the help of the Binghamton Youth Symphony Orchestra board’s grant writing skills and sponsors such as the Broome County Council of the Arts and the Chenango Council of the Arts, the concerts continue to have free admission. Attendance increased and has since moved from West Middle School, to the Anderson Center on Binghamton University’s campus. The orchestra now performs two free concerts for as many as 2,000 elementary school students each March.
More Community Involvement
With Mr. Shifrin’s encouragement, the orchestra played in public venues in the Binghamton area such as the annual “Holiday Festival of Music” sponsored by the Binghamton Philharmonic Orchestra at the Arena each December. Also at the Arena, the Broome Community College sponsored the orchestra to provide the instrumental music for their commencements for many years.
Mr. Shifrin also collaborated with the Binghamton Philharmonic Orchestra by having the Philharmonic members offer clinics to the students. Over the years, the Philharmonic has allowed BYSO students to attend their performances free of charge.
Mr. Shifrin began annual informal reunions for alumni. Originally held during Thanksgiving vacation, these mini-reunions have been moved to the first rehearsal after holiday break in January. Alumni are encouraged to attend to either visit, or play for that rehearsal. Hundreds of alumni throughout the years have taken advantage of the opportunity to keep up with the orchestra.
A formal 25th Anniversary Concert was given on January 10, 1987 where alumni were invited back to perform with the present orchestra. In July of 2011, a special 50th Anniversary Concert was held at West Middle School. Alumni travelled from all over the country to play with current members. Sanford Reuning returned to the podium one more time, and Conrad Ross was a guest conductor.
Concerto Competition Created
One of the most visible of Mr. Shifrin’s innovations was the opportunity given to qualified students to perform as a soloist with the orchestra. Each fall, the students could audition to perform in the following winter concert. There is an impressive list of soloists from this orchestra who have then gone on to become professional musicians. Concerto Competitions are still a way for our musicians to challenge themselves even more, and very often there is a soloist at both the Winter and Spring concerts, or even more than one during an individual concert!
On The Road With Mr. Shifrin
The orchestra was able to travel for performances during the years that Mr. Shifrin was directing. Trips were made to Ottawa, Toronto, Philadelphia, the Montreal World Exposition, Kent State University, and Boston. In Boston, the orchestra was awarded superior ratings twice at two different festivals. Additionally, the orchestra performed at conventions of the New York State School Music Association, and the New York State School Boards Association. There were trips to Wildwood, New Jersey and Syracuse, New York where the orchestra did an exchange concert with the Syracuse Youth Symphony. They also traveled to hear concerts by professional orchestras.
A New Era
Barry Peters became the director of the senior orchestra in the 1997-98 school year. Since that time, Peters has tried to continue all the traditions that Mr. Shifrin began, while performing the same quality music at Bernard Shifrin's high standards. The orchestra has traveled to New York City, Rochester, and Philadelphia several times to hear professional orchestras. They have performed at Gordon College in Boston, Mansfield University, Washington D.C and at the 2000 and 2006 New York State School Music Association Convention. Mr. Shifrin continued his support of the program by his presence at concerts and annual alumni reunions until his passing in 2009. Mr. Peters continues to direct the orchestra, now in his 26th season.
Junior Orchestra’s New Leaders
For the 2011-12 season, BYSO welcomed Julie Along Carr as director of the Junior Orchestra. Mrs. Carr taught the string program at the Cortland City School District for 27 years. Mrs. Carr conducted the Junior Orchestra for 4 seasons, being a strong, passionate leader.
Mrs. Elizabeth Kovach (formally Miss Elizabeth Bartlett) took charge from 2016-2020. Mrs. Kovach is herself a former BYSO member - giving her a unique perspective as a conductor, and Mrs. Kovach is a member of the Binghamton City School District Music Faculty. Beginning in the 2021-2022 season we welcomed our newest Associate Conductor - Ms. Amelia Wilson - a member of the Vestal School District Music Department.
Subsequent directors of the Junior Orchestra have continued the traditions Russell Colton began by encouraging young students to grow musically with high expectations resulting in a quality musical experience for the young musicians in the area. Briefly named the Preparatory Orchestra, it is a place where young musicians can gain skills and confidence, “preparing” them to move up to the Senior Orchestra.
The BYSO Legacy
The main function of this orchestra program continues to be the development of student musicians in cooperation with local school music programs. These combined educational efforts have produced alumni who now perform in professional and non-professional orchestras and on Broadway. Many of our alumni have become teachers in public schools, private schools, and universities throughout the United States.
The orchestra has always been grateful for the support of private and public music teachers, the Broome County Music Educators Association, the Binghamton Philharmonic Orchestra and our continuing strong ties to the Binghamton City School District.
There are many alumni who appreciate quality music more because of their time in this orchestra. There are also appreciative audiences who have filled the concert halls for 62 years. The Binghamton Youth Symphony Orchestra has been and continues to be an integral part of the arts community in our area.