Our Journey

Inspiration to Passion

The idea of the Central Minnesota Youth Orchestra was conceptualized by Michael Zellgert in the spring of 2013. During this time, he interviewed instructors, universities, and school teachers about the concept and was given the blessing to move forward.

Shortly after, he contacted individuals from the community, a group of musicians and music enthusiasts, who officially agreed to help establish the program in writing on July 19, 2013. The newly formed board of directors endeavored to offer communities a program which would be the cornerstone for youth orchestra programs in the region.

The Central Minnesota Youth Orchestra inspires and prepares its students to become passionate leaders in their community or school programs by being a good example through music preparation, listening to instructions, and enhancing their musical knowledge and instrumental skills.

In the Beginning - Day 1

Several students in the region do not have a school orchestra program or a program that offers orchestra levels based on experience and ability. CMYO has filled this need by offering three ensembles that places skills in a range that allows students to achieve a balanced proficiency along with other students of a similar skill level.

CMYO has been collaborating with private instructors, directors, professors, local educational institutions by offering ways to utilize local professionals using mentors within the CMYO programs. In addition, CMYO planned to develop a grant approved program which would bring professionals to assist directors with sectionals within the school orchestra programs.

The first home for rehearsals resides at the College of St. Benedict/St. John University.

The fall of 2013, Dr. David Arnott and Dr. Lucia Magney from CSB/SJU were our first guest artists offering a master class on ‘Scottish fiddle’ music. In the spring of 2014, Dr. Marion Judish from SCSU offered a master class on the Symphony No. 25 by Mozart.


In November, Central Minnesota Youth Orchestra was approved for its Non-Profit 501(c)(3) status. This new status allowed us to qualify for grants without a fiscal agent.

In addition, we continued to form a partnership with the College of St. Benedict/St. John's University and St. Cloud State University for the use of facilities for rehearsals and performances. St Cloud Symphony donated funds to assist with the growth of the programs, and Chamber Music Society of St. Cloud has offered discounted tickets.

Recognizing the need, CMYO was offering tuition assistance that was available to students who are struggling to make tuition payments.


After some discussion, CMYO had taken a new approach to student availability and affordability. The program removed the tuition based system and changed to a Fair Share system. The Fair Share shows what the cost of the program is to the families and provides a suggested amount that will help the program.

However, if a family cannot afford the program, they may make customized payments, reduce their amount they will pay, or pay nothing if the family is very encumbered. This ensures that no student is turned away for financial reasons.


Quite a bit happened in 2016. Three field trips (MN Orchestra, SPCO, and Sybarite 5) were offered to the students and chaperones at no charge. A new website designed to help service the parents and students. CMYO looked to find new ways to provide quality performance and mentorship to the students via grants and other sources. Plus, a brand new ensemble was announced at the Spring performance: Prelude - Cello.

CMYO debuted a performance through the Paramount Arts Local Roots Series: Music Through the Ages: Russian Expressions. Alexander Sandor performed the Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto No. 2, 1st movement with the students. Local professionals joined in to share-a-stand with the students.

Online registration was made available and now continues to be the way to register.


This year's theme was "In the Spirit of Unity" Fall: The Journey, Winter: Empower, Spring: Continuity.

CMYO modified its program by adding a pilot ensemble called Prelude - Cello. This was to be the first of four ensembles that would center on instrumental skill development. Throughout this year, the board of directors and parent committee had become more organized.

The program ventured into a new territory by offering a Region-wide mass ensemble event with a major guest artist, Mark Wood. Apollo High, Tech High, St. John's Prep, Sartell High, Kennedy Community, South Jr. High, and Suzuki Studio were invited to join totaling over 160 students. With the exception of transportation, the experience was a free event for the schools. This opportunity was a financial risk for the program.

CMYO ended the project in the black within $300 of the projected costs. Total cost with in-kind included was close to $35,000. The money was raised through a raffle, corporate and individual donors, and a grant of $7,000 from the Central MN Arts Board. This major event made headlines above the fold in the St. Cloud Times.

2017 year was a very amazing and successful year for the program. Unfortunately, two grants (fall and spring) unexpectedly did not get approved which was focused towards CMYO's core program needs. This set the budget back with a liability of a little over $2,000. It became apparent that a new financial strategy needed to be in place for 2018-2019.


The year's theme is "History in the Making" Fall: Patriotism, Spring: Heroism.

The program has started out with a grant that will help fund the Fall performance. A new Discovery Class has been added to the program. This class combines two of the ensembles for a discussion about Music History, Music Theory, Ear Training, critical score study, practicing, and student recitals. This class is integrated as part of the experience and is not a separate registration for the students.


CMYO recognized how many arts were suffering during the lack of access to performances and education. A Minnesota State Arts Grant was awarded to CMYO to provide (6) school visits with the New York based SYBARITE5 ensemble along with a masterclass and a share-a-stand with the CMYO program.

Due to the COVID restrictions, CMYO modified the programming to offer remote school visits, a customized pre-recorded performance to be available for schools and CMYO, and a collage of students and SYBARITE5 for a YouTube video performing the piece HeartBreaker. This opportunity touched the lives spanning from central Minnesota, to upper Brainerd and Duluth for special opportunities to inspire the lives for the youth musicians in Minnesota.

Under COVID limitations, the Lux String Quartet gave a performance along with an indepth masterclass with the CMYO ensembles. In the Spring, Keith Secola, Native American lecturer and song writer, joined CMYO to deveop our understanding of how the Native American culture is deeply connected to music and nature through music and animal inspired instruments.


New beginnings for the program. CMYO hired a new Outreach Coordinator position, began contacting schools and administration about opportunities that are coming in 2022-2023. Out of respect for the school programs, CMYO decided to give a year of rest for schools to find themselves in their programs after COVID. This allowed CMYO to reaccess and develop for a new strategy for outreach and performance opportunities. CMYO classes were in full swing in this year without restrictions.

The theme for the year was Afflictions of Humanity. Eric Graf, cellist from the Twin Cities, performed Trauermusik by Paul Hindemith (start time: 39:48) with the Encore ensemble along with a large work of the Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis (start time: 50:46) assisted by local professionals to fill in the two orchestras required to perform the piece. All solos were performed by the students.


CMYO starts its new full packed year with the Theme "Tales of Time: Myths & Legends". The programming for this year will include a masterclass with the Viano String Quartet, a Minnesota Orchestra field trip, and an incredible two-day workshop for CMYO and (4) high schools with the great Mark & Maggie O'Connor-funding awarded to CMYO through a Minnesota State Arts Grant.

The event will include learning about the styles of folk and improvisation ending with an orchestra performance with Mark and Maggie. Additionally, two middle schools will be hosting a visitation with the guest artists.

Weekly Experiences

A typical day for the Encore ensemble is 10am to 11am, Discovery Class with Intermezzo at 11am to 11:45am, 15 min Break, and a rehearsal from 12pm to 1:30/2 pm.

CMYO now provides a greater need beyond developing and performing in an ensemble. The program aspires to offer students a well-rounded educational experience in both an orchestral and a class setting. Since 2017, the program has provided large regional experiences for several middle and high schools worth over $60,000, donated purchased music to public schools valued at $1000, and offer masterclass and mentoring when requested by schools.

With the new challenges a foot, our approach will require its administration to expand. Up until now, CMYO does not have a paid executive director. The administration has been operated only on volunteer time.

Currently, CMYO has a board of directors, one board advisor, a newly created Outreach Coordinator, a Project Manager (unpaid), student-run committee, and a parent committee.

The Mission

"To provide a unique orchestral experience leading to performances that shape, educate, and inspire lives of the developing musicians in the communities of Central Minnesota."