Despite the Pandemic, Elgin Youth Orchestra Scatters Tunes But Not The Group

May 3, 2021

While most performance groups refrained from gathering due to the pandemic, one northern Illinois orchestra let the music play within the walls -- with precautions.  

The Elgin Youth Symphony Orchestra continued their 2020-21 rehearsals without any interruption. 

Matthew Sheppard is the artistic director of the orchestra. He said in-person meetings were able to continue because the group incorporated scientific research.  

“About musical instruments, about aerosols, about social distancing, etc.,” he said. “And came up with a set of safety plans and set of protocols that would enable our students to still come together, to still play together six feet apart or 10 feet apart with masks on.” 

Sheppard explained that the masks were specially designed and allowed the wind players to insert their instruments.

The orchestra won the Illinois Council of Orchestras Youth Orchestra of the Year Award for 2021.  

Eric Larson is the executive director of the EYSO. He said receiving this award is a testament to the hard work put in to keep in-person rehearsals. 

“It's not been easy, and it looks a lot different,” Larson noted. “But our students have been rehearsing together making music and learning and developing all season long. Didn't happen by itself.” 

He said a team of people made sure that extreme measures were put in place for these practices and performances to occur.   

This year’s theme was Myth & Legends. Sheppard said this idea uncovers so many things.

“We've had three concerts - Origins, Wanderers, and Heroes -- each one reflecting sort of a different archetypical character,” Sheppard explained. “And using those, we were able to turn the lens of inquiry back on ourselves to and see how our own personal myths and legends influence our own worldview, our own perspective.”

Most performances were recorded and produced for an audience but the final one for the season will be streamed live. 

Heroes takes place on May 9 at 2 p.m., 4:30 p.m. and 7:00 p.m.  

Auditions for the 2021/22 season will take place May 27 through the 30 at Elgin Community College.  

  • Yvonne Boose is a current corps member for Report for America, an initiative of the GroundTruth Project. It's a national service program that places talented journalists in local newsrooms like WNIJ. You can learn more about Report for America at