Omaha Area Youth Orchestra joins University of Nebraska at Omaha School of Music | College of Communication, Fine Arts & Media

On July 1, the Omaha Area Youth Orchestra (OAYO) will join the University of Nebraska at Omaha School of Music and the School of Communication, Fine Arts and Media.

Bringing OAYO under the university umbrella is the next chapter for Omaha’s premier youth orchestra program following the retirement of Aviva Segall after 25 years as OAYO’s music director and principal conductor. OAYO honored Segall with the title of Honorary Music Director in recognition of her dedication to the organization and her impact on a generation of young Omahans.

“Omaha’s music community is stronger because of Aviva and OAYO,” said Barbara Soderlin, OAYO Board Chair. “OAYO alumni go on to play in professional orchestras including the Omaha Symphony, become music educators themselves, and flourish in a variety of other music careers.”

OAYO was founded in 1958 as a partnership between the Metropolitan Area Public Schools and the Omaha Symphony Association. In 1978, it was established as an independent non-profit organization. For more than 65 years, OAYO has built a community of patrons of musical talent and appreciation of the arts. Alumni recall OAYO as a musical community that fosters artistry and friendship while promoting discipline, collaboration and leadership.

“Now under the leadership of the UNO School of Music, OAYO will provide young musicians with more opportunities to grow through higher education and career opportunities exploring the arts,” Soderling said.

OAYO worked closely with UNO School of Music Dean Dr. Karen Fannin to develop a transition plan. “We are pleased to welcome the Omaha Area Youth Orchestra to the UNO Conservatory of Music,” Fanning said. “Since its founding in 1958, OAYO has enriched the lives of thousands of musicians, and we look forward to continuing this strong tradition. For 25 years, students have performed under the guidance of Aviva Segall, who will be greatly missed as principal conductor role. We are pleased to welcome OAYO’s artistic staff to UNO and to bring a new conductor to the organization. The UNO Conservatory has been OAYO’s primary rehearsal venue for many years, and we are pleased to have OAYO as our home. One of the services provided to instrumental music students at Eastern Nebraska and Western Iowa.

Dr. Michael Hilt, dean of the School of Communication, Fine Arts and Media, added: “The Omaha Area Youth Orchestra (OAYO) has a long tradition of excellence in the metropolitan area. Faculty and staff in the College of Communication, Fine Arts, and Media (CFAM) and the School of Music recognize the need to help young musicians continue their careers. We welcome OAYO joins CFAM and UNO to advance higher education and promote learning opportunities throughout the region.

Dr. Matthew Brooks, associate professor and director of orchestral activities in music and medicine at the University of New Orleans, will serve as the Youth Symphony’s new conductor. He also conducts the Nebraska Medical Orchestra at the Nebraska Medical Center.

Conducting the Youth Philharmonic Orchestra is Mrs. Debbie Martinez. Mrs. Martinez is the Chair of the Performing Arts Department at Millard North High School, where she conducts four orchestras serving more than 200 students. Ms. Martinez currently serves as president of the Nebraska Music Educators Association and is an alumna of the Nebraska College of Music Education, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in music education.

Continuing in her role as OAYO is Patricia Ritchie, who conducts the Youth Concert Strings and Prelude programs, a position she has held for many years. Previously, Mrs. Rich taught in Omaha and Millard Public Schools for 36 years and was a member of the Omaha Symphony Orchestra for more than 30 years. Mrs. Rich also has a private cello studio.

Sophia Potter will continue as Director of Chamber Music and is completing her role as OAYO’s Executive Director. Ms. Porter is a cellist who conducts and performs with the Longbrook Orchestra, is string coach for the Lincoln Youth Symphony, and most recently chaired the Artist Selection Committee for the Lincoln Friends of Chamber Music Series for several years.

OAYO employees Cassie Fritch and Julissa Ramirez will join the UNO School of Music as youth program and operations managers and as operations assistants.

For those interested in joining OAYO, auditions are still being accepted for 2024-2025. Please visit to register.

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