Our Commitment

Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestras’ dedication to equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) is inseparable from our commitment to musical excellence. We value the unique role and contribution of every one of our musicians and recognize that we will only create world-class music when each member of the ensemble can participate to their fullest potential.

CYSO supports the personal and musical growth of our students, honors all voices, and stands in solidarity with our students, families, and community members to dismantle the systems that create inequality in music. Students come to CYSO through their common love of music, but quickly learn that they have so much more in common. The experience of sharing the stage with a diverse group of peers equips them to excel as the next generation of leaders.

Art by Javier Suárez

CYSO Students at a Glance

Pie chart of grade level: 43% 10th-12 grade, 3% 1st-3rd grade, 28% 4th-6th grade, 25% 7th-9th grade

Grade Level

Pie chart of race/ethnicity: 29% Latinx, 33% Asian, 6% African-American/Black, 2% Native American/Other, 29% White


Pie chart of gender: 46% male, 52% female, 1.2% non-binary or other group



of CYSO students graduate high school, going on to college, attending some of the top conservatories, colleges, universities in the world


number of languages spoken in the homes of CYSO students


of CYSO students volunteer regularly, giving approximately 1,000 hours in service each month

Important Questions

What does CYSO mean by equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI)? 

At CYSO, we want everyone to be on the same page. Here are a few key definitions of terms we use when talking about equity, diversity, and inclusion. We’ve paraphrased these definitions from our friends at the League of American Orchestras.

  • Equity – a commitment to justice, impartiality, and fairness in the way CYSO engages and supports students. Ensuring equity requires that we consider each student’s unique situation and the root causes of disparities within our community. That means examining how and where power and resources live (and are absent) in our community.
  • Diversity – the differences within a group of people. Differences aren’t good or bad, but some groups have more power than others in our society. We celebrate diversity in age, differing bodies and abilities, education, ethnicity, gender identity & expression, geographic location, marital & family status, national origin & immigration status, race, religion, sexual orientation, and socio-economic status/economic background. No individual can be “diverse.” It takes many people to create a “diverse” group.
  • Inclusion –  making sure people from all backgrounds and identities can and do participate fully in CYSO. While a truly “inclusive” group is necessarily diverse, a “diverse” group may or may not be “inclusive.” Inclusion creates a sense of connectedness among all CYSO families.

How is CYSO working on EDI?

  • We are committed to continued transparency with our audition and evaluation processes through increased student understanding, participation, and feedback.
  • We will continue to maintain and develop deep relationships with majority Black and Latinx music programs, such as our strong partnership with the Chicago Musical Pathways Initiative, The Peoples Music School, CYSO@CPS community residencies at Nixon ElementaryMoos Elementary, and Gallistel Language Academy, and Preludes program building partnerships with multiple other CPS schools. 
  • We are working toward adopting more equitable tuition fee and financial assistance structures within the next several years.
  • We prioritize teaching students about great music from a wide range of composers, which for us, means broadening the canon at every opportunity. While we have long been committed to playing works by underrepresented composers, we formally commit to including works by Black composers, women composers, or composers of other underrepresented groups on every CYSO concert in the 21-22 season and beyond.
  • All CYSO staff members have participated in intensive anti-systemic racism training as of August 2020. CYSO will actively seek candidates equipped to further antiracist work for all artistic and administrative roles
  • The CYSO Board of Directors also participates in antiracism training and prioritizes candidates who can speak to the different backgrounds and experiences represented in our student body. Our board always seeks a balanced leadership team with diverse perspectives, which includes continuously recruiting people from groups not currently represented at the board level.
  • Throughout the season, all CYSO students will participate in age-appropriate conversations about equity, diversity, inclusion, and what this means at CYSO. Topics will include a primer on how to be a good teammate and ally and how to ask for help or report an issue if one occurs. 
  • We will survey our students and families so that our community can let us know frequently and anonymously whether they feel included, supported, and heard at CYSO, and if not, what we can do to change.
  • We created our Incident Report Form to allow students to anonymously report bullying, harassment, or other concerning behavior within the CYSO community.

Why is CYSO doing this work? 

  • CYSO’s mission is “to inspire and cultivate personal excellence.” We affirm that every student’s identity is an asset to the growth of their personal excellence and the excellence of our community. We believe that we are responsible for each other and to each other in service to our mission. 
  • People of Color, Women, LGBTQ people, and people with low income have historically and systematically been excluded from fully participating in the institution of orchestral music. We believe this exclusion has limited the art form we love, and that great music celebrates culture and transcends identity. We believe that orchestras can do anything, and we are committed to broadening the canon (commonly accepted group of musical works)  of “classical” music to include all voices more fully. We reject racism, classism, and all structures that have classed certain types of music as “High Art” and others as “low art.” 
  • We acknowledge that depending on where you live, your access to daily in-school music opportunities varies greatly. Chicagoland’s musical training ecosystem is fundamentally inequitable, and a significant opportunity gap exists for instrumental music training. We affirm the right of every child to explore their love of music. We support successful school music programs where they exist and advocate for similar opportunities for all students.
  • We recognize that there are barriers to CYSO participation in addition to ensemble tuition, including the cost of private lessons, access to instruments, transportation to Chicago’s loop, language, ability, and other barriers. 
  • We believe Chicago is made stronger by a youth orchestra program that reflects the rich cultural diversity of our city.

Recent Projects

Asian Circles of Community Care

Due to the recent rise in Anti-Asian violence, further amplified by the hateful shooting in Atlanta that included six Asian women, the Asian community is sharing a deep pain. While…

If you have any ideas for how CYSO can be a more equitable, inclusive place, please contact Karen Mari at kmari@cyso.org

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