The Youth Orchestra of San Antonio Thursday announced its new Rising Star Fellows Program to afford opportunities to young black, Latino, and Native American musicians from underserved areas of San Antonio. Based on music teachers’ nominations, the program will choose four eighth-grade musicians each year to be mentored throughout their high school careers.

“YOSA changes kids’ lives through music,” YOSA Executive Director Brandon Henson said. “What we’re trying to do [with the Rising Stars Fellowship] is identify the promising young musicians that may not have access to the resources necessary to pursue a serious study of music and to provide them with those resources.”

“There’s an ongoing conversation in orchestras across America about the underrepresentation of especially Hispanic and black musicians,” said YOSA Music Director Troy Peters, noting that this program aims to give such musicians a more equitable chance of success.

To ensure students are given all the tools necessary to succeed, fellowships will include private lessons, orchestra tuition, summer camp tuition, and a stipend for necessities such as groceries, concert attire, gas to get to rehearsals, and travel and lodging for college auditions. Mentoring will extend to students’ families by offering guidance to parents planning for their children’s futures in music study.

Music Director Troy Peters conducts the YOSA Philharmonic. Credit: Courtesy / YOSA

YOSA was founded in 1949 by San Antonio Independent School District Music Director G. Lewis Doll to encourage and develop young musicians in and around San Antonio. Since then, the nonprofit has grown into a nationally acclaimed youth music organization and currently serves more than 3,000 students through its nine orchestras, summer camp, and partnerships with more than 115 schools across Bexar County.

YOSA’s most significant school partnership is with the Roosevelt Compact, which includes Roosevelt High school and six nearby elementary and middle schools, funded through a grant from Rackspace to five local nonprofits to grow the community around Roosevelt High School through rounded youth mentoring and enrichment.

Henson described the fellowship program as similar to YOSA’s existing school partnerships, but said it is more intensive in its focus on developing gifted individuals who can then inspire others in the community to work toward achieving their own goals.

“When you identify these promising young musicians and invest in them through these resources, they naturally become leaders. So, they’ll be bringing those qualities back to their communities and broadening the possibilities that others will see,” Henson said.

Currently, YOSA is a resident company at the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts. The organization’s more advanced ensembles, such as the YOSA Philharmonic, perform at premier venues around the world and collaborate regularly with internationally renowned soloists. In 2018, YOSA will celebrate San Antonio’s Tricentennial by holding its 12th international tour in Spain.

Peters said that in addition to offering fellows more focused support, YOSA will continue to provide as many opportunities to learn and engage with music to as many San Antonio area children as it can.

Henson expressed YOSA’s need for public support, as well as the organization’s desire to partner with members of the community to rally around individuals “who could have the opportunity to do something they love, are passionate about, and have a career in that,” through the program.

“We have kids who are really talented, but who have had fewer resources at home and at school,” Peters said. “By providing a more comprehensive base of support, we’re trying to help them – not just in music, but in life.”

Tom Bugg is a San Antonio native and student of English at Colorado College.