Young musicians have the chance to strengthen their orchestral experience by joining the brand-new Vail Youth Symphony. Aspiring musicians can register now for auditions set for Aug. 9 and 16.

The symphony is a volunteer-run nonprofit group for students with various skill levels on Tucson’s east side and beyond.

“We’re really just trying to inspire lifelong musicianship and an appreciation for music,” said Jessica Breen, board president and musical director.

Breen, a former music teacher, helped start the organization with Amy Osmun after noticing a need for stronger programs for string players.

“They’re starting in their school groups and then because there is this kind of inconsistency as to what is offered in the school programs in the middle-school ages, they’re tending to drop out,” Breen said.

The Vail Youth Symphony aims to offer a program outside of what players are doing in school to enhance their skills and keep them involved, Breen said. There are more than 250 string players in the Vail community alone, she said.

Osmun, a private music instructor and mother of six, was worried her children wouldn’t have an opportunity for a group experience.

“There’s nothing like being in an ensemble to help you grow,” said Osmun, who also plays principal second violin in the Civic Orchestra of Tucson and is one of the first violins with the Sierra Vista Symphony.

The Vail area is an ideal place to start a youth symphony, Osmun said, because there’s nothing like it in the immediate area. She plans to enroll five of her kids in the symphony, and will include the sixth when she is ready.

“Vail is an amazing community, with tons of parental support,” Breen said. “Our school district is one of the top districts in the state educationally, but it’s time now to add the fine arts piece to really make it the whole package.”

And that piece isn’t only available for string players. Auditions will also be held for wind, brass and percussion instruments.

Students will receive direct attention for their different instruments from the volunteers helping with the program.

“We are all specialists on the specific instruments,” Breen said.

Other volunteers involved with the symphony include assistant director Allison Minch and private music instructors Katy Asher and Whitney Olson.

Olson is also a musical director with a background in musical education. Minch is a music teacher at Sycamore Elementary School. She teaches general music, band, orchestra and choir.

“I’m excited because I know how wonderful the instruction is going to be,” Osmun said.

The symphony will begin holding concerts during the spring. Its debut concert will be in May, on Mother’s Day weekend, at the Vail Theatre of the Arts.

“There will be various large concerts and also some opportunities to collaborate with some of the other youth orchestras in the area,” Breen said.

The auditions will be held at Cienega High School. String players can audition on Aug. 9 and woodwind, brass and percussion players can audition Aug. 16. Audition times will be sent via email after prospective members register online.

Students must arrive with a prepared solo, and will be asked to do some sight-reading to demonstrate their skills.

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“That is just to make sure that we’re going to have students involved that are interested in working hard and striving for musical excellence,” Breen said. “Since it’s the first year, we’re not being super strict as far as what we’re requiring for auditions.”

More than 20 students have signed up for auditions so far, and Osmun hopes that number continues to grow.

“We’d love to get more kids auditioning. We’d love to have the whole symphony program: woodwinds, brass, percussion, everything,” she said.

Following audition decisions the first Monday after Labor Day, students will be placed into groups. Rehearsals will be held every Monday from 6 to 8 p.m. at Cienega High School.

There is a $12 fee to audition for the group and a tuition to continue participation. The tuition is $275 for the year. A $75 scholarship will be offered to students who are also participating in school ensembles or other private instruction.

Tuition will help fund the symphony and will go toward buying music, insurance, concert venue rentals and more.

“If you think about the cost of private music instruction or anything else, it is an amazing experience for what you’re actually paying,” Breen said.

Apart from valuable musical instruction, participants can also gain a valuable life experience.

“I loved that growing up,” said Minch, who participated in a youth symphony when she was younger. “It gave me friends who were involved in music from all over the area and not just from my school or neighborhood.”

Brittney Smith is a University of Arizona student who is an apprentice at the Star. Contact her at or 573-4117.