Youth orchestra gets new name and director

Published on Saturday, 26 July 2014 23:17 - Written by Danny Mogle danny@inmagtexas.com

Tyler Youth Orchestra has a new name and a new musical director who’s on a mission to grow the ensemble.

The orchestra’s board changed the name to East Texas Youth Orchestra and hired Gene Moon, director of orchestras at Stephen F. Austin State University, as music director and conductor.

Moon wants to increase the size of the ensemble to about 80 students and increase opportunities to children who want to perform.

“We are an organization that caters to developing talents in kids who have interest in orchestral music,” Moon said. “Our mission is to also help enhance the orchestra programs that already exist in the area.”

The name change reflects the orchestra’s desire to be more regional in scope. Moon hopes ETYO will attract young musicians from as far away as Longview and Nacogdoches.

He said he wants to raise awareness about the benefits of being in an orchestra in hopes that schools with thriving band programs will add string ensembles.

Young string players in East Texas have fewer opportunities to perform than their woodwind, percussion and brass counterparts who have outlets in marching and symphonic bands.

“I want to see ETYO thrive and prosper and have that success spill out into our schools,” Moon said.

At Stephen F. Austin, Moon directs the Orchestra of the Pines, the university’s flagship ensemble, and serves as musical director of the SFA Opera program. He has conducted high school state honors orchestras and performed with symphonies based in Longview, Fort Smith, Ark., and Shreveport.

East Texas Youth Orchestra currently is scheduling auditions for its 2014-15 season. Youths can set up an audition through ETSO’s website, etyo.org. The orchestra presents four concerts – two in the fall and two in the spring – each season.

Besides East Texas Youth Orchestra, which is for advanced students, there also is the East Texas Academic Orchestra for intermediate-level musicians and the East Texas Preparatory Orchestra for beginning students.

Joanie Rathburn-Russell conducts the Academic Orchestra and Archie Jones conducts the Preparatory Orchestra.

According to information on its website, Tyler Youth Orchestra was founded in 1955, as a violin ensemble for fifth- and sixth-graders, reorganized as a string orchestra in 1975 and expanded to a full orchestra in 1979. Tyler Preparatory Orchestra began in 1991 and Tyler Academic Orchestra formed in 2006.

Moon said he and the board are exploring ways to increase the visibility of all the orchestras by having them perform at more public events.

“A good youth orchestra means community involvement.” Moon said. “It’s not just the kids who are involved; it’s their families and the community as well.”