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The Santa Cruz County Youth Symphony (SCCYS) began in 1965 as a summer music program and officially became a youth orchestra in 1966. The Youth Symphony serves young musicians of Santa Cruz County (pop. 275,000), providing the area’s only training orchestra of pre-professional caliber. Under the direction of Nathaniel Berman, the Youth Symphony performs a variety of music from the classical symphonic repertoire in original scores, as well as modern classical music, including pieces commissioned expressly for the orchestra. The Youth Symphony consistently achieves high standards of musical excellence, while providing an educational and entertaining experience for performers and audiences alike.

Mission Statement:

To cultivate musical excellence, a love of classical music, and a spirit of collaboration among young musicians throughout Santa Cruz County; to introduce young people from all socio-economic and cultural backgrounds to the joys of orchestral and chamber music.

Our values include:

Artistic Excellence • Commitment • Collaboration • Education & Outreach • Mutual Respect • Inclusiveness • Joy of Music


The fascinating history of the youth orchestra in Santa Cruz dates back to the founding of a county school summer music camp from 1965 to 1966. Founders of this program included Norman Masonson, James Eachus, Ken Larson, Hayden Dryden, and Craig Johnson. This quaint summer music camp led to the formation of the Santa Cruz County Youth Symphony for its first season from 1966 to 1967. Little did the original founders know the impact this organization would have on the future of youth classical music education and the number of young lives this music would ultimately touch. The Santa Cruz County Youth Symphony was organized with cooperation from the County Office of Education as a separate nonprofit organization from the Santa Cruz Symphony, founded seven years prior. Over the past 52 years, the Youth Symphony has provided a wonderful opportunity for young local musicians to excel and grow musically. Many former SCCYS members have gone on to careers in professional music.

Norman Masonson, often credited as being the “founder” of the Santa Cruz County Youth Symphony, was its first conductor. Subsequent conductors include Vincent Gomez, Don Adkins, Murray Walker, John Larry Granger, and Nathaniel Berman, our current Music Director. Don Adkins was conductor between 1983 and 1987. Mr. Adkins was on the faculty of Bethany College until it closed in 2011 and remains on the faculty today at Cabrillo College. Prior to Mr. Adkins, Vincent Gomez led the Santa Cruz County Youth Symphony. Mr. Gomez also conducted both orchestral and choral groups while on the faculty at Cabrillo College. From 1987 to 1993, Murray Walker conducted the Santa Cruz County Youth Symphony. Mr. Walker went on to direct the music programs both at York School in Monterey and at Calvary Episcopal Church in Santa Cruz.

From the perspective of conductor Adkins, SCCYS enjoyed much larger membership in the years prior to the 1980s because many string players were drawn from high school orchestras, including Aptos High, Harbor High, and Santa Cruz High. In the late ’70s, with the passing of Proposition 13 and the elimination of funds for many of the public school string programs, it became more challenging to recruit new members to many youth orchestras.

During Don Adkins’s tenure as conductor, a series of special concerts highlighted the 1986–87 season which, was the Youth Symphony’s 20th Anniversary Season. The orchestra debuted its first commissioned work, The Road to Damascus, by Richard Freeman-Toole. This season also featured an alumni concert drawing upon players invited from the previous twenty years. This collaboration of current as well as former SCCYS players, some of whom were now well into their 30s, resulted in a memorable performance conducted by orchestra founder Mr. Masonson himself. One of the pieces featured during this hallmark concert was Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony.

John Larry Granger began conducting the Santa Cruz County Youth Symphony in the 1993–94 season and remained its leader for an unprecedented 18 years, until 2011. Mr. Granger initiated several collaborative projects for the Youth Symphony. When asked to reflect on his years with SCCYS, Mr. Granger states he was “… particularly proud of the combined concerts we did each year with the Youth Music Monterey Orchestra. The orchestras were about the same size, but together we could play some major full-symphonic literature that neither orchestra could have performed on its own. Also, of course, the side-by-side week with the Santa Cruz Symphony always proved to be such a worthwhile educational experience.” Another special concert Mr. Granger recalled featured alumnus Aaron Miller as piano soloist with the orchestra in Rhapsody in Blue and in Beethoven’s Choral Fantasy. If you’ve had school-aged children in the last two decades in Santa Cruz County, they’ve likely been on a school field trip and enjoyed orchestral music thanks to the tireless efforts of Mr. Granger. About 4,000 students/teachers per year participate in these entertaining and educational concerts, and often guest artists, such as dancers, acrobats, etc., complement the musicians and enrich the overall experience. In March 2011, the Santa Cruz County Youth Symphony presented a “Tribute to John Larry Granger” during its joint concert with the Santa Cruz Symphony, commemorating Mr. Granger’s eighteen years with the orchestra.

One of the Youth Symphony’s charter players, Ben Williams, who later started a local roofing business, has been a continuing supporter of the symphony throughout the years. He was remembered as having ridden his bicycle religiously to every rehearsal. “I could never repay the Youth Symphony,” said Williams in an interview for a local paper in 2004. “It taught me what hard work can achieve and the wonderful feeling of accomplishment of seeing things through.” He added, “Youth Symphony gave me a base that I couldn’t get anywhere else, at school or at home.” One of Williams’s fond memories of his six years playing percussion was of winning the perfect attendance award. He also later sponsored such an award for the organization. “Suit up and show up,” Mr. Williams said. “It’s a basic lesson I’m proud to help kids learn.”

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