Archiving 75 Years of Program Books

This summer, Marketing and Development interns worked together to catalog items that make up a large portion of CYSO’s archives—75 years of program books. Data Intern Maya Echambadi went through decades of programs, carefully organizing them chronologically and then scanning one copy of each. Next, Marketing & Development Intern Jessica Chen took the scans and created an online listing on our website so that the program could be publicly accessed by anyone in the CYSO community.

For years, we’ve fielded phone calls from alumni interested in seeing program books they were listed in from decades past. These requests used to take a lot of staff time to fulfill, as it meant digging through many boxes and bins. Now, all we have to do is point community members toward one online location and thousands of pages of CYSO memories are available to scroll through and reminisce!

Intern Jessica Chen wrote this reflection of the project and what she learned from exploring so many years of CYSO’s printed history.

Collage of program books from CYSO's 75 years

When learning about history, we tend to overlook the small details. Celebrities, politics, and social movements define our view of the era, leaving the lives of everyday people more or less a mystery. This summer, however, I was able to peek into a bit of history when I was tasked to work on CYSO’s program book archive, which dated all the way back to 1947. With many hours spent on the project, I found that the programs hold a lot more information about the past than just a list of names and music compositions. 

Archiving the programs was not as easy as it sounded. The job was split between myself and Maya Echambadi, the development department Data intern. Maya started the project by scanning all 194 programs to be digitized, then I made a page on CYSO’s website to access the programs.

I found it fascinating to see how history evolved throughout these pages. In earlier programs I saw advertisements for milkmen and “modern soda fountains,” things we rarely think of as important today. Programs that notes “cameras and tape recorders prohibited” seem outdated, as now it would be phrased as “cameras and phones prohibited.”

There were many ads for instrument makers, but as a harpist I took interest in the ad for Lyon & Healy, a well-known harp manufacturer in Chicago. To my surprise, they were advertising brass and string instruments— turns out the company didn’t even sell harps back then! Even CYSO itself wasn’t actually known as CYSO back then. It was called the Youth Symphony Orchestra of Greater Chicago (YSOGC). 

Header from a 1981 program book showing the Youth Symphony Orchestra of Greater Chicago logo
Bowman Milk ad with princess and squire cartoon characters talking "Wanna Hear something swell?" and "Tune in our Bowman Musical Milkwagon" radio program

Looking through old programs felt like I was being transported back in time. The images of the young musicians in fashion and hairstyles of the time was noticeably different, but their focus and skill in the orchestra felt familiar. I still see the continuity of CYSO over the years, even with the changes throughout history.

There were students who listed they went to schools near me like Lane Tech, Von Steuben, and Senn, walking and living similar experiences to those of our current students. A 1988 program notes that CYSO toured Europe and played at the Musikverein, just as Symphony Orchestra did this summer. 

Illustration from a 1989 program book cover featuring students playing different instruments in black and white

Studying these programs has made me reflect on CYSO as an organization. We’re carrying on the legacy of those high school students who first came together in 1946 and the many musicians who’ve brought CYSO all the way to the present.

Many years down the line in the future, I’ll be happy to look back and see my own name in the program books, left as a little part of history.

Browse CYSO’s full program book archive.


Jessica Chen is a harpist in Symphony Orchestra and served as CYSO’s Marketing & Development Intern during summer 2022. She is a senior at Northside College Prep and has been part of CYSO since her freshman year. In her free time she enjoys baking and drawing.

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