It is the summer of 1972. The Godfather, Dirty Harry and the Last Picture show are playing at the movies. Abba, the Eagles and John Lennon top the charts. Terrorist attack at the Olympics, there is scandal in the Whitehouse (Watergate), earthquakes and hurricanes rock the earth and Bobby Fisher becomes the World Chess Champion. Hawaii Five-O and the Brady Bunch are on T.V. and a group of parents in Dallas, Texas join together in a living room to form the Greater Dallas Youth Orchestra.
That year a small student orchestra of around 30 members would perform two concerts under the direction of Yves L’helgoual’ch. Their repertoire included Wagner, Sibelius, Bizet and more.
There are no programs and very few pictures of that first season but one can only imagine what it must have been like for those 30 students to walk into rehearsal on the first day at St. Mark’s school. They were handed the same music that a professional symphony performs and asked to read it on sight.
There is a brochure that shows these young people sitting in rehearsal with the conductor. They are all posed waiting for him to lift his baton and on the back side of the brochure you see them in different poses, holding their instruments, smiling. How exciting it all must have been.
By year-end they had reached a membership of almost 60 students. These kids came from Highland Park, Richardson, Dallas, Mesquite, Garland and Denton and were 10th-12th graders. They paid $30 as part of a participation fee. There was a board of directors made up of parents, volunteers and musicians. When you plant a seed and give it water, it will grow.
As the next season began, things begin to progress for the small band of musicians. They performed at fairs, gardens, retirement homes, a Christmas concert and a spring concert. It had to have been thrilling to see what was happening, to be around that energy. Looking at the program for May of 1975, it is a full orchestra of strings, winds, brass and percussion performing Copland, Beethoven, Bartok and more.
By the Fall of 1975 the GDYO was now beyond stopping. The Spring before they had held the first annual concerto competition and now were gearing up for auditions, offering seats to 9th-12th graders. They were even thinking about a European Tour. They hired musicians from the DSO (Richard Giangiulio was one of those) to coach sectionals for winds and brass, a contest was held to design a logo and the first GDYO staff member was hired, a woman by the name of Joann Mintz who would stay with the organization for 12 years.
And like most organizations on a path of growth, things changed. Maestro L’Helgoual’ch retired in 1977, an affiliation with the DSO began which included coaching and a side-by-side concert, weekly rehearsals began at SMU, the ensemble began performing five concerts each season, and a weekend music camp began.
By the end of the decade, Richard Giangiulio would take over as music director. They had over 80 musicians in the orchestra and a full concert season ahead. It was going to be another exciting ten years.
And what is truly amazing about this first decade, is that all this communication and energy was done without computers, internet or cell phones. It was word-of-mouth, type-written letters and lots of drive.