String and full orchestras range from beginner to experienced young musicians. To join, students participate in an audition and are placed in an appropriate ensemble based on their age and musical experience. Auditions happen each spring, with additional recruiting in the summer if spots need to be filled.
Auditions for the 23/24 season will open on February 1, 2023. Please check back here for more information and audition requirements.
The Opportunities are Endless (Almost!)
After your audition, CYSO Artistic staff will evaluate your performance to determine where your skills best fit within our orchestra ensembles. To hear the level at which each ensemble is playing and where you may fit, watch performance snapshots.
Ready to audition for CYSO orchestras? Read through the frequently asked questions below for everything you need to know about the audition process.
If you have additional questions, please contact Andrea Kennard at email@example.com.
Frequently Asked Questions
Learn more about our Orchestras
Is experience required?
To join our orchestra programs, we recommend that students have approximately two years of experience playing their instrument.
What makes CYSO programs different from other music training?
At CYSO, students have the opportunity to work alongside a diverse student body of like-minded young musicians who are passionate, hard-working, and eager to learn. We challenge students to achieve beyond their expectations. Students learn to work individually as musicians and collectively as an ensemble.
In addition to the musicianship and technical proficiency that students develop at CYSO, the orchestra environment provides skills that translate to all areas of their life. CYSO musicians develop the ability to listen to others respectfully and intently, and learn how to work towards a goal.
Our students learn and grow alongside young musicians from across the Chicago region, developing friendships and learning to collaborate with students they wouldn’t otherwise have the opportunity to interact with. Students leave CYSO with a strong sense of discipline, increased confidence, and a deep appreciation for music and the arts.
What is the difference between string and full orchestras?
CYSO’s string orchestras are for string players only (violin, viola, cello and bass). Full orchestras include woodwind, brass, percussion, harp, and piano students in addition to string students.
What are CYSO’s orchestra ensembles and when do they meet?
CYSO orchestras include nine ensembles that range in age and skill level, including four full orchestras (strings, winds, brass, percussion) and three string orchestras. When students audition for CYSO orchestras, they are placed in the appropriate ensemble based on their playing level. Read on for specific information about each orchestra ensemble.
Internationally recognized as one of the foremost youth orchestras, CYSO’s Symphony Orchestra is comprised of the most talented and dedicated student musicians. Under the direction of Music Director Allen Tinkham, Symphony Orchestra students hone their skills performing the most advanced orchestral repertoire alongside exciting new works by contemporary composers. Symphony Orchestra’s annual seasons feature collaborations with leading cultural institutions, a concerto competition, and performances at Symphony Center’s Orchestra Hall. Symphony Orchestra rehearses on Sundays from 3:00 – 6:00 pm.
Students who wish to be considered for Symphony Orchestra should prepare an orchestral excerpt for their audition.
Currently led by Music Director Allen Tinkham with the support of Assistant Conductor Benjamin Firer, Philharmonic Orchestra is comprised of talented student musicians from across the Chicago region. Philharmonic Orchestra receives an advanced orchestral experience and exclusive training opportunities including sectionals and coaching with top professional musicians, a concerto competition, and multiple performance opportunities in some of the area’s most renowned venues including the University of Chicago’s Logan Center for the Arts, the Studebaker Theater, and Symphony Center’s Orchestra Hall. Philharmonic Orchestra students perform advanced orchestral repertoire and new works by contemporary composers. In addition to its regular season concerts, Philharmonic Orchestra also performs two education concerts for CPS elementary school students and does a reading session of works by students composers from CYSO’s Composition Seminar. Philharmonic Orchestra rehearses on Sundays from 12:00 – 2:30 pm.
Students who wish to be considered for Philharmonic Orchestra should prepare an orchestral excerpt for their audition.
Led by Michael Mascari, Concert Orchestra provides advanced orchestral training to predominantly high school aged student musicians. Concert Orchestra students perform advanced orchestral repertoire and new works by contemporary composers. Their season includes weekly rehearsals, sectionals, a concerto competition, an audition seminar, and concerts in some of the area’s most renowned venues including Harris Theater, Northwestern University’s Pick-Staiger Concert Hall, and the University of Chicago’s Logan Center for the Arts. In the spring, Concert Orchestra is also featured at the Chicago Cultural Center for a pair of educational concerts for CPS elementary school students sponsored by the International Music Foundation. Concert Orchestra rehearses on Saturdays from 12:30 – 3:00 pm
Debut Orchestra, a full orchestra led by Dana Green and supported by Wind & Brass Coach Abby Black, provides orchestral training for predominantly middle school-aged student musicians. Debut Orchestra is often students’ first exposure to high level orchestra training, as well as performing as part of a full orchestra. Their season includes weekly rehearsals, sectionals, and performances at local venues such as the Studebaker Theater and Northwestern University’s Pick-Staiger Concert Hall. Debut Orchestra rehearses weekly on Saturdays from 10:00 am – 12:00 pm
Under the direction of CYSO Director of String Ensembles Daniella Valdez, Accelerando Strings provides string orchestra training to high school-aged student musicians. Accelerando Strings’ season includes weekly rehearsals that focus on technique, string repertoire, musicianship, and presentation skills. Students perform two concerts at local venues such as Harris Theater, Northwestern University’s Pick-Staiger Concert Hall, and Studebaker Theater and a community concert at a CPS high school. Members of Accelerando Strings also have the opportunity to participate in Composition Seminar. Accelerando Strings rehearses on Saturdays from 1:00 – 3:00 pm
Preparatory Strings, led by Director of String Ensembles Daniella Valdez and supported by Assistant Director of String Ensembles Anne Huynh McTighe, provides string orchestra training to predominantly elementary school aged student musicians who read music and have at least two years of playing experience on their instruments. Weekly rehearsals focus on technique, ensemble performance skills, and basic string repertoire. The Preparatory Strings season includes two performances at local venues that have included the Studebaker Theater and Northwestern University’s Pick-Staiger Concert Hall. Preparatory Strings rehearses on Saturdays from 10:30 – 12:30 pm
Overture Strings, led by Anne Huynh McTighe, under the direction of Director of String Ensembles Daniella Valdez, provides entry-level string orchestra training to our youngest elementary school-aged student musicians. Their season includes two performances and weekly rehearsals that focus on technique, ensemble performance skills, basic string repertoire, and music theory. Overture Strings rehearses on Saturdays from 9:00 – 10:15 am
When are Orchestra concerts?
CYSO concerts are held in the fall (late November and December) and spring (May and early June). Some programs also have winter concerts in February/March. At the start of each season, students will receive a detailed calendar of concert and event dates.
What is the Orchestra attendance policy and requirements for membership?
Membership in CYSO is both a privilege and a responsibility. As one of the nation’s finest youth orchestra programs, CYSO maintains its standing through the commitment and dedication of our musicians. Participation at rehearsals results in successful performances.
CYSO attendance guidelines define players’ responsibility in order to ensure the group’s success. Regular attendance maintains the musical integrity of the orchestras, as well as each player’s individual efforts and investments. Students are allowed a set number of absences per concert cycle, which is outlined in detail in our Parent & Student Handbook.
Requirements vary for each orchestra, enrichment program, and by instrument. See the CYSO membership requirements for details.
What is the tuition cost of Orchestra?
Learn more about the audition process
When are auditions due?
Orchestra auditions for the 2023-2024 season will be submitted via video by Sunday, March 19 at 11:59 pm. Students may submit their audition video and application any time before the deadline. Here are the instructions for how to upload your video when you are ready to submit your application.
Percussion auditions will happen in-person in April & May with exact dates to be determined. After filling out your audition application, percussion students will have the option to use CYSO’s facilities to record their audition.
What are Orchestra audition requirements?
Orchestra auditions for the 2023-2024 season will be submitted via video by Sunday, March 19 at 11:59 pm. Percussion students will have the option to use CYSO’s facilities to record their audition in-person in April and May with exact dates to be determined.
Orchestra audition video submissions should be approximately 5-8 minutes long. During that time, students will perform 2-3 minutes of their two contrasting solo pieces. If a student would like to be considered for our most advanced Symphony and Philharmonic Orchestras, they should also prepare the orchestral excerpts linked in the question below.
All auditioning students are asked to prepare two contrasting pieces for their audition. For the audition video, please include a 2-3 minute portion of each piece. (You do not need to start at the beginning.) It is important that the two solo selections you choose are CONTRASTING so that the judges hear the range of your technical and musical capabilities: fast vs slow, lyrical vs technical. If your two pieces are 1) a slow, lyrical piece and 2) a fast, technical piece with a slow introduction, make sure you play the fast part of the second piece.
Please note that excerpts are required for all students auditioning on harp or piano. Auditions that are submitted without the required excerpts will automatically be disqualified. Piano spots are only available in Philharmonic and Symphony Orchestra, and harp spots are available in Symphony, Philharmonic, and Concert Orchestra.
What are the orchestral excerpts? Should I play an excerpt?
Excerpts are only required for students who wish to be considered for our two most advanced orchestras, Symphony and Philharmonic, and all harp and piano students. When submitting an audition registration, students will indicate whether they plan to play the orchestral excerpts or not. Students should still prepare two contrasting pieces for their audition in addition to the orchestral excerpt for their instrument.
If a student isn’t sure whether they should audition for these ensembles, we suggest looking at the excerpts with their teacher to see if it feels like an appropriate piece for their level. Students will not be penalized for attempting the excerpts and even if they prepare the excerpt but don’t perform well, they will still be considered for other ensembles.
Below are the excerpts to be considered for Symphony or Philharmonic Orchestras:
- Two contrasting movements or solo pieces
- Orchestral Excerpts*
- *The orchestral excerpts are only required if you wish to be considered for placement in Symphony Orchestra or Philharmonic Orchestra (Sunday orchestras). You do not need to prepare the excerpts to be considered for placement in Concert Orchestra, Debut Orchestra, Accelerando Strings, Preparatory Strings, or Overture Strings (Saturday orchestras).
- Winds & Brass
- Two contrasting movements or solo pieces
- Three orchestral excerpts chosen by student from CYSO’s Orchestral Excerpt list*
- Flute List A and Flute List B
- Oboe List A and Oboe List B
- Clarinet List A and Clarinet List B
- Bassoon List A and Bassoon List B
- French Horn List A and French Horn List B
- Trumpet List A and Trumpet List B
- Trombone List A and Trombone List B
- Bass Trombone List A and Bass Trombone List B
- Tuba List A and Tuba List B
- * Note that you must play at least 1 excerpt from each list, A and B, for your instrument. For example, you can pick 1 excerpt from list “A” and 2 from list “B” for a total of 3 excerpts.
- *The orchestral excerpts are only required if you wish to be considered for placement in Symphony Orchestra or Philharmonic Orchestra (Sunday orchestras). You do not need to prepare the excerpts to be considered for placement in Concert Orchestra or Debut Orchestra (Saturday orchestras).
- Percussionists have the option to record their video on their own, or sign up to use CYSO’s facilities. Percussion videos will be due on Friday, April 30.
- To be considered for Debut or Concert Orchestra (Saturday Orchestras):
- Snare Drum:
- Solo or excerpt of your choosing (~1 minute)
- Exercise #75 from Fundamental Studies for Snare Drum
- Target tempo should be quarter note = 120 bpm
- Rolls should be played as multiple bounce (“buzz”) rolls
- Demonstrate ability to tune drums to specific pitches by tuning the drums on camera (not before you start recording)
- Saturday Orchestra Timpani Excerpt
- Snare Drum:
- To be considered for Philharmonic or Symphony Orchestra (Sunday Orchestras):
- Snare Drum:
- Solo or etude of your choosing (~1 minute)
- Excerpt from Keiskleiriana 1
- Sunday Orchestra Timpani Excerpt
- Snare Drum:
- Please note that you can still be considered for Debut or Concert Orchestra if you prepare the repertoire required for Philharmonic or Symphony Orchestra.
- Harp and Piano
What will CYSO be judging in my audition?
Things the judges consider
- Rhythmic accuracy
- Rhythmic stability (steady tempo)
- Intonation (playing in-tune with yourself)
- Tone quality
- Dynamic contrast
- Instrument-specific technique
- Musicality, expression, and phrasing
- Appropriateness of repertoire for your technical level
- Ability to recover if you make a mistake
- Careful preparation of all audition music
Things the judges do not consider
- The audio quality of the device you used to record
- The video quality of the device used to record
- Where you recorded your video and what it looked like (bedroom, living room, bathroom, etc. However, acoustics can be an issue if, for example you record in your bathroom and the sound is unclear due to the echo. Wherever you record, make sure you can be clearly heard.)
- Race or ethnicity
- Gender or gender presentation
- If you have a private teacher or who your teacher is
- Other auditions you’ve taken or groups you’ve played with
- How fancy or expensive your instrument is
Will I have a video or in-person audition?
For the 2023-2024 season auditions this spring, all orchestra auditions except for percussion will take place via video. Percussion students will be emailed with a form to schedule an in-person audition date and time.
Can I edit my audition video?
Absolutely no editing or sound enhancements of any kind are permitted. Your audition video should be one continuous take. Audition videos that are suspected to have been edited or otherwise enhanced will be immediately disqualified.
How long should my audition video be?
Your audition video should be no longer than 8 minutes, and should include 2-3 minutes of each of your two contrasting solo in addition to your audition excerpts if you chose to be considered for a Sunday orchestra.
What if I do not have access to an instrument at home or can’t do a video audition?
If you do not have access to your instrument or have other challenges preventing you from submitting an audition video, please email Karen Mari at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Where do in-person auditions take place and how do I get there?
In-person auditions take place at CYSO’s offices in the Fine Arts Building, 410 S. Michigan Ave Suite 833. Click here for travel and transit information.
Should I memorize the music?
Memorization is not required. If you would like to memorize your solos, you are welcome to do so.
What should I wear?
Wear nice dress clothes that are comfortable for you to perform in. Remember that this is the first impression you will make on those who will evaluate you. It is also a good idea to practice in the clothes you are planning to wear at least once before your audition.
When will I find out if I have been accepted?
All audition results will be announced by mid-June via email. All auditioning students will be contacted regardless of the outcome.
Orchestra Audition Interest Form
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