Our History


The Greater Miami Youth Symphony was created in 1958 by composer and University of Miami professor Robert Strassburg in order to provide an independent, complementary program to music education in the Miami area schools. Strassburg’s Youth Symphony was referred to then as the “All Miami Youth Symphony.” In 1966, the “All Miami Youth Symphony” became part the University of Miami’s Preparatory Program run by Dr. Lucas Drew. Three years later, the Symphony completed a concert tour of Colombia in a cultural exchange program entitled “Youth for Youth.”

In November of 1972, the All-Miami Youth Symphony was officially renamed the Greater Miami Youth Symphony to mirror the name of Miami’s professional symphony, the Greater Miami Philharmonic, of which several of the youth symphony’s artistic staff were members. In 1976, the youth orchestra became a separate entity from the University of Miami, and filed for status as a non-profit corporation with the State of Florida.

The Greater Miami Youth Symphony has continued to expand and grow based on its founding mission to enrich the cultural foundation of our community. In the 2005-06 season, the Youth Symphony, with funding from the Children’s Trust, was privileged to hire their first Executive Director, existing Concert Orchestra conductor Dr. Melissa Lesniak, Ph.D., who founded an exciting program entitled “PreStarter Strings.” The mission and purpose of PreStarters was to provide beginning free instrument instruction to students with no prior experience or training on string instruments, and to feed them into the Young Mozarts Ensemble, the first of several GMYS performing orchestras. Over the next decade, Dr. Lesniak, while still remaining as orchestra conductor, transformed and built the organization into one of the nation’s largest multifaceted music education youth orchestra programs.

In 2007 the Symphony toured Italy and also that year started its first ever summer music camp. 2007 was the last year the National Endowment for the Arts offered a funding stream specific to summer camps, and in that year, GMYS was the only orchestra nationwide to receive funding for summer music youth programming. The summer music camp program has continued to grow since and now includes four sessions and serves nearly 400 students.

GMYS was designated a finalist in 2009, 2010, 2011, and 2012 for a National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award from the Presidents Committee on the Arts and Humanities and was designated the 2011 Excellence in Youth Programming for School and Life Success Award recipient from The Children’s Trust, the 2011 Sun from Arts for Learning for Outstanding Partner, and is currently the Youth Artists in Residence at the Deering Estate at Cutler. The group has performed in Carnegie Hall, NY, as well as Mexico, Italy, Columbia, and in Ireland in March 0f 2014. GMYS is a current recipient of a Knight Foundation grant enabling an international cultural exchange program with a youth orchestra from Havana, Cuba, slated for Spring 2018.

GMYS mentors nearly 1000 students during the school year alone. GMYS is served by a full-time Executive Director, Cerise Sutton, and Assistant Executive Director, Ms. Lakeisha Frith, as well as other administrative and artistic support, led by Artistic Director, Hui Fang Chen.  GMYS offers students opportunities in four orchestras, two concert bands, jazz band, multiple chamber ensembles, and nine beginning instrument classes. Orchestras, bands, and chamber ensembles perform 3-4 large gala concerts each year, as well as numerous outreach programs at local libraries, parks, museums, senior centers, and youth centers. Students participate in a yearly concerto competition and receive master classes from the Deering Estate Chamber Ensemble. Students also participate in master classes with diverse guest artists from all over the world as well as University of Miami and Florida International University music faculty.

GMYS provides culturally diverse programming throughout the county in collaboration with many  neighborhood and community organizations, including local churches, parks, libraries, youth centers, and senior centers. We have presented collaboration concerts with Alhambra Orchestra, Thomas Armour Youth Ballet, Roxy Theatre, Arts for Learning, and various youth orchestras, bringing artists and audiences from different ages and cultural backgrounds together for exciting musical performances. GMYS presents an annual sell-out Halloween concert in downtown Miami in collaboration with Alhambra Orchestra, and participates with the UM Frost School of Music in a mentoring program (MusicReach) that  pairs university music students with youth orchestra members to meet in weekly instructional sessions.

In recent years, GMYS students have composed app. 50% of the New World Symphony Side-by-Side Orchestra. Twenty-six students were accepted to the 2013 Florida All-State Festival, 24 for the Miami-Dade Honors Middle Orchestra, and 18 for the Miami-Dade Honors Elementary Orchestra. In addition, graduates from the last eight seasons have all gone on to college, many with music scholarships. Participating youth have gone on to successfully audition for magnet schools, all-state and honors music festivals, and college scholarships.