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Billings Symphony and Billings Youth Orchestra to join forces

The Billings Youth Orchestra is pictured during their last tour to New York City in 2019. On July 1, 2022, the organization officially becomes the Billings Symphony Youth Orchestra after boards of both entities unanimously voted to merge the organizations. (Photo courtesy Janny Kirk)

The Billings Symphony will acquire the Billings Youth Orchestra (BYO) effective July 1, 2022, renaming the nonprofit the Billings Symphony Youth Orchestra. The governing boards of both groups voted unanimously in May to combine the two organizations, a move that will ensure top-notch orchestral opportunities for generations of young Montana-area musicians from kindergarten to college age.

“We have been fortunate in Billings to have the Billings Youth Orchestra impacting the lives of young musicians since 2006,” said Anne Harrigan, music director for the Billings Symphony. “Youth orchestras play an important role in the development of young lives. I am thrilled that the Billings Youth Orchestra will become a part of the Billings Symphony. Together we are poised to make even more of a difference in the lives of the youth of our community.”

Since its founding by the Kirk family with support from parents and educators, BYO has provided young musicians the opportunity for the growth through training and performance of the highest level across four different orchestras: Preludio, Concert, Young Artist, and Repertory.

“BYO is now positioned to take the next step in its evolution as the Billings Symphony Youth Orchestra, forming a lasting bond with a highly respected professional orchestral organization,” said Stacey Casterline, BYO Board President. “Our talented young musicians will benefit from the mentorship of professional musicians and greater opportunities to perform. This union also brings added exposure to all that orchestral music has to offer to the community.”

In youth orchestra programs, students develop a lasting love of orchestral music, and many have gone on to perform in professional orchestras and ensembles throughout the nation. Several students who have gone through the youth orchestra program also interned with the Billings Symphony, including founding BYO members David Kirk, Nicole Ficek and Rosie Weiss.

Members of the Montana Fiddle Club perform on at the Billings Symphony’s 50th annual Symphony in the Park in June 2022. The Fiddle Club is one of several entities under the Billings Youth Orchestra, which will become the Billings Symphony Youth Orchestra on July 1. (Photo by Casey Page)

“BYO provided another step for them to further their music studies and performance opportunities,” said Billings Symphony violinist and librarian Lisa Bollman, who also helped found the organization.

Over the years, the BYO has grown to include four orchestras: Preludio Strings, Concert, Young Artists and Repertory, as well as several ensembles including Repertory Winds and the Montana Fiddle Club. All operations will remain intact and performance opportunities will expand under the Billings Symphony. The organization’s four professional conductors, all of whom are Billings Symphony musicians, will continue to lead the orchestras and ensembles.

Billings Symphony Youth Orchestra concerts will be presented by the Billings Symphony as part of their annual season, including concerts on Dec. 4 and April 30, 2023 — both at Lockwood Performing Arts Center. These concerts are part of the new Billings Symphony Family Series, sponsored by Kampgrounds of America, Inc., and provided free of charge to the community. Donations are encouraged for youth orchestra concerts.

Each year, the Billings Symphony helps introduce thousands of children and young adults to classical music through Explore Music!, education and community engagement program provided to participants at no cost.

For Maestra Harrigan, performing in a youth orchestra was instrumental in her musical evolution. “It was the youth orchestra experience that inspired me to pursue a career in music,” she said. “It really expands your perception and view of the world.”

The Billings Symphony has started a nationwide search for a Youth Orchestra Manager who will coordinate all facets of the Youth Orchestra moving forward. Details on the position are online at billingssymphony.org/employment.

For information about the Billings Symphony Youth Orchestra, including how to join, tuition and the upcoming season schedule, email youthsymphony@billingssymphony.org or call (406) 252-3610.

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Founded as the Billings Symphony Society in May 1951, the organization’s mission is to enrich lives through music. For more information, visit billingssymphony.org, the Billings Symphony Orchestra & Chorale office at 2820 2nd Ave. N., or call 406-252-3610.