Philadelphia Youth Orchestra Music Institute: An Inside Look


The Philadelphia Youth Orchestra Music Institute was founded in 1939 by a middle school music teacher and has grown to include six divisions: Philadelphia Youth Orchestra, Philadelphia Young Artists Orchestra, Young Musicians Debut Orchestra, Bravo Brass, Prysm Strings, and Tune Up Philly. Pepper is a proud sponsor of this organization that dedicates itself to nurturing and supporting young musicians in the Philadelphia area.

Being asked to produce the PYO Music Institute’s virtual gala More Than Music this year gave us a unique opportunity to observe and film rehearsals as the group returned from online instruction. We interviewed faculty members as well as students and parents about a variety of topics: how to continue making music in the midst of a pandemic, how to provide access to music education to the city’s most underserved communities, and the impact that being a part of a musical community has on the lives of everyone involved.

Pandemic Changes

The PYO Music Institute was preparing for an international tour when COVID-19 changed everyone’s plans. “At the beginning of the pandemic, it was really a matter of trying to understand in what ways we could engage students online,” said Patrick Bailey, the organization’s operations director and librarian. PYO dedicated itself to providing a consistent presence in their students’ lives, making sure they had playing and listening time each week as well as a safe online space to talk about their experiences and to socialize. A highlight of their time online was creating a virtual Christmas performance of the holiday classic Sleigh Ride.

When the organization made the decision to start meeting again in person, they did extensive research, implemented safety protocols, and kept an online option available for students who were more comfortable staying at home.

Tune Up Philly

Tune Up Philly was started to provide access to music education for students who didn’t have that opportunity through their school. It’s the only non-auditioned ensemble at the PYO Music Institute – no experience is needed, and there’s no cost to participate. The organization focuses on removing hurdles that stand between willing students and the resources they need to start making music.

Development Director Danielle Johnson says, “These students bring so much innate talent, so much desire, so much creativity, so much joy to what they do – and that is worth celebrating.”

We heard from parents and students who are involved in the program, along with PYO Music Institute faculty, about the impact Tune Up Philly has made on their lives and on music education in Philadelphia.

Saint Patrick Hall

“Something that the orchestra community does really well is come together in times of adversity,” says Patrick Bailey, Operations Director and Librarian for the PYO Music Institute. Saint Patrick Hall in Philadelphia provides the physical space for these musicians to gather and make music together. The acquisition of more space in the building along with extensive renovations has provided the facility with a new music library resource center that students will be able to access. Planning is underway for the Primavera Room – a space dedicated to recitals and masterclasses and named after Joseph Primavera, who was the Institute’s music director for 51 years.

2021 Ovation Award Presentation

We all know how important a role music teachers play in the lives of their students, so recognizing music educators for their achievements is something we love to do. Pepper partners with Jacobs Music Company and local classical and jazz station WRTI to sponsor the Ovation Award, which recognizes Delaware Valley music teachers “for inspiration and outstanding leadership in music education.” The call goes out each year for current and former students to nominate their favorite music educator by writing an essay entitled “How Has Your Music Teacher Changed Your Life?”

Ten finalists receive honoraria from Pepper and the PYO Music Institute along with a plaque from Jacobs Music Company. Representatives from WRTI, Jacobs Music, and Pepper paid a surprise visit to this year’s Ovation Award winner, Charles Salinger, to congratulate him and present his award in person. Mr. Salinger has been a finalist twice before, and this year he received seven essay nominations on his behalf.

“It’s easy to be with my students because I just like them. I try to be that other adult in their life that helps them improve and understand the meaning of music and culture.” He was a member of the Philadelphia Youth Orchestra in the 1970s and credits the organization as his first step toward having a life in music.

Pepper spent time on site with the PYO Music Institute from late April to early June of 2021. We recorded over twenty-five students, parents, and faculty members to put together the story of this remarkable organization. We were honored to be involved with these students and the parents and teachers who support and guide them, and we’re truly delighted to feature a story of music persevering through this very difficult period and coming back to the stage. We hope you have enjoyed getting to know them too.

We know all of you have stories of making music through the pandemic, of your struggles and accomplishments in the face of extraordinary circumstances. Please share your stories with us here – we’d like to learn about your experiences too!

Pepper has served musicians since 1876. We hope you find our blog posts informative and a wonderful gateway to news in the world of music.


  1. Hi it is a very encouraging & positive massage for youth & adults who took music as a Hoby or professional and also it gives some meaning for others to get involved
    S Reuben Spencer


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