Thanks to Yeou-Cheng Ma, The Children’s Orchestra Society is Almost 50 Years Old
By Andrea Kirsh, HR'73
When Yeou-Cheng Ma turned to ClassACT to solicit help for the Manhasset-based Children's Orchestra Society (COS) I was delighted to offer planning assistance; I knew how demanding small arts organizations are, and how much of her life Yeou-Cheng had given to the organization. Her father founded the Orchestra as a way for his music students to play in ensembles, but for seven years following his retirement it lay dormant. When Yeou-Cheng and her husband, Michael Dadap took over in 1983, they expanded the ambitions of COS with a mission: to cultivate and nurture children and teach them teamwork and life skills through music-learning and performing in orchestral and chamber music settings. What had been an 18-member group has grown to more than 200 students from across the New York City area participating in four orchestras, chamber groups, chorus, and individual instruction in all the orchestral instruments and musicianship. Professional musicians take on students, regardless of their ability to pay and the organization has raised funds to subsidize students' participation in tours across the U.S., Canada, Europe and most recently, to China.
Yeou-Cheng was a serious violinist when her family moved from Paris to New York in 1963, a very shy student suddenly forced to function in a new language. When she entered Radcliffe she was still a reserved musician, taking pre-med courses; she became a pediatrician specializing in children with developmental disabilities, a career which has supported her ongoing musical activities.
The responsibilities of running COS have forced the shy musician to become skillful at administration, public relations and fundraising. Yeou-Cheng told me she's gotten used to asking strangers for money, and when they can't contribute she says, "That's all right; COS need lots of other things: volunteers, marketing help, board members and an audience at recitals." She will do whatever it takes to keep the organization going--during one financially stressful period she and Michael raised money by mortgaging their house.
COS is committed to a child-centered program where children are encouraged to strive for their personal best, rather than competing with peers. Students are placed in ensembles according to their abilities rather than their age or grade level. Since arts education has been eliminated in so many public schools, the orchestra may be their only chance to study music. It has also served as a voice for children with academic and social problems, and all participants have gained experience in cooperation and team spirit.
Ten years ago I attended a COS concert at Carnegie Hall which was reviewed by the New York Times the following day. I was astonished. The accolade is obviously a reflection of COS's musical stature, but most of its graduates are not headed for professional careers as musicians. Many will continue to play for pleasure and all of them will be enthusiastic audience members for classical music. In approaching its 50th year, the challenge for COS is ensuring the viability of what has become much broader than a family project.