Cascade Youth Symphony Orchestras Maestro Gerry Jon Marsh knew there would be some pomp and circumstance involved in the organization’s annual spring concert at the Edmonds Center for the Arts May 3.
What Marsh didn’t know was that the celebration of his 25th year as music director and principal conductor would include an appearance by Gerard Schwarz, conductor of the Seattle Symphony Orchestra. Schwarz presented Marsh with a special award honoring his quarter century service to young musicians, and extended an official invitation to CYSO to perform with the Seattle Symphony next year at Benaroya Hall.
The CYSO board also announced the creation of a scholarship in Marsh’s name to be awarded each year to a student musician within the organization. “Gerry has not only served with extraordinary dedication and enthusiasm, but has also been the artistic shepherd to hundreds of area youth,” said CYSO executive director David Endicott. “We are all very proud of him.”
Marsh was humbled by the accolades, but said he can’t take credit alone for what the organization has accomplished since he came on board in 1984.
“We never do anything by ourselves, if you’re really going to have a wonderful path” in life, Marsh said. “When I take a bow with the orchestra, I’m bowing for a lot of people,” including CYSO’s coaching staff, conductors and support staff.
Based in Edmonds, CYSO was originally founded in 1976 as a youth component of the professional Cascade Symphony Orchestra. When Marsh joined CYSO, there were just 28 young musicians in the program. Today the number is approaching 300, with a total of five orchestral ensembles — Preparatory Strings, Sinfonette, Premiere, Junior and the Youth Symphony, which features young musicians up to the age of 21.
Marsh’s start as a music educator began while developing music programs in the Edmonds School District and later in the Northshore School District. Currently on the music faculty at Seattle Pacific University, Marsh is also a published composer and arranger, and has been a guest conductor, choir master, clinician and adjudicator for regional music competitions and festivals.
With 41 years of music education under his belt, Marsh has seen the effect of economic hard times on arts programs in schools, but he remains optimistic. “I’m not going to say it’s not serious, because it’s extremely serious,” he said. He attributes CYSO’s lasting power on a curriculum designed to work in harmony with local public and private school programs, a supplement. “If the arts are going to make it into the 21st century, we need to consolidate and work together.”