New exhibit celebrates Portland Youth Philharmonic

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — The Portland Youth Philharmonic has roots from more than a century ago when Mary Dodge started teaching violin to young students in Harney County.

“She founded a symphony there called the Sagebrush Symphony,” said Kristan Knapp, the Portland Youth Philharmonic (PYP) alumni relations manager.

After moving to Portland years later, Dodge organized the Portland Junior Symphony in 1924. Later, that would become PYP. Through the Depression, World War 2 and a pandemic, it kept growing — making it the longest continually performing youth orchestra in the country.

“This orchestra has not missed a season of production of giving concerts and providing music education to students in Portland at any point in its 100-year history,” Knapp said. “It has not closed down.”

This month the Oregon Historical Society opened the new exhibit celebrating PYPs rich history, “From Sagebrush to Stumptown.”

Leslie Wu, who is now the board president, was in PYP as a sophomore and junior in high school.

“It built a lot of pride in practicing and pride in what I was doing and creating with my friends. I was creating music with a huge group of people my age. There’s just nothing like it,” Wu said. “It really is pretty amazing to see how far the orchestra has come from its humble beginnings to performing at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall for the main concert series.”

Over the years they’ve had famous guest conductors, done international tours and — under current director David Hattner — added many community programs to make what they do more accessible to everyone.

Hattner said PYP prepares these musicians for their future.

“We observe that the intense process of rehearsing, as well as individual musician-ship training they have to do helps them organize their way of thinking and learning,” he said.

The exhibit at the Oregon Historical Society runs through February 4, 2024.

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