The Peninsula Youth Orchestra was organized in 1960 with the financial and moral support of the Junior League of Hampton Roads and Peninsula Symphony Orchestra, a youth string orchestra. Twenty-three youngsters under the direction of Elizabeth Chapman rehearsed for one hour a week in a church school building. Only a few short concerts were presented that year and the audiences consisted mostly of families and friends. Mrs. Chapman was sole conductor and strings flourished on the peninsula. The string group grew in many ways. The number of players more then doubled. Longer rehearsals and greater skill among the members resulted in performances of a higher order. The growth of the orchestra and the increased interest in string music led the Newport News and Hampton School Systems to add string instruction to the music curriculum of the schools.
In the mid to late sixties, it was felt that it was time to expand and enrich the student’s musical experience; the PYO became a full symphony. The necessary woodwind, brass and percussion players were added, Ronald Marshall came on board to join Elizabeth Chapman as co-conductor and the organization changed the name to the Peninsula Youth Orchestra.
In 1972, tragedy struck the orchestra and Mrs. Chapman passed away. Her husband, Mr. Harold Chapman, a well-known composer, took over the orchestra, but unfortunately died within 18 months. Their deaths were a tremendous loss to the Peninsula Youth Orchestra and the musical community.
In the fall of 1974, the PYO was fortunate in acquiring a talented conductor, Mr. Roland Carter. He was a professor of music at Hampton Institute, the current Hampton University. In 1977, Mr. Carter left Hampton for another position, and was replaced by Mr. Cary McMurran, who was also the Conductor of the Peninsula Symphony. Mr. McMurran continued as Conductor until Mr. Roland Carter returned in 1979-80.
The next year, Mr. Carter left the area and the orchestra then became inactive. In 1983, two former board members, Mrs. Peggy Kelly and Mrs. Betty Nobles, reactivated it. Since that time, it has been a performing orchestra.
The PYO was managed by a board of advisors, with the support of the Guild of the Peninsula Symphony Orchestra, the Peninsula Symphony Orchestra, and the Friends of the Peninsula Youth Orchestra, an active association of parents of the students. It is now managed by a Board of Directors, most of who are either parents of PYO members or local music teachers.