Remembering Lyn McLain (1928-2023)

It is with heavy hearts that we share the news that our founder, Lyn McLain, passed away peacefully in his home this week. Remembered as “the father of the American youth orchestra,” Lyn  joined the DC public school system in 1956 as a music teacher at Coolidge High School and, only four years later, launched what became known as DCYOP with an initial orchestra of 60 students and three volunteer teachers. He inspired tens of thousands of young people over the next five decades, encouraging students to grow and learn in community through music. He took DCYOP on over a dozen international tours, introducing DC-area youth to new cultures, people, and music, and giving them the opportunity to serve as ambassadors for the region and the country.

As we all grieve this immeasurable loss, we wanted to share this video of Lyn in conversation with our former Executive Director, Liz Schurgin, from 2020. It includes a wonderful short documentary, “Growing Up with Music,” that tells the story of DCYOP during the early decades of the program’s existence and gives those of us not lucky enough to be there a brief glimpse into Lyn’s vision and the impact of what he created. 

To our DCYOP alumni, we would also like to give you a space to share your recollections and memories while also honoring Lyn’s legacy. The DCYOP Storybook is a project that he conceived of during the pandemic to create a visual and written history of the program as seen through the experiences and memories of its students. If you wish to participate, please complete this form or contact Sandy Choi at [email protected] for more information.

Emily Langer of the Washington Post penned this lovely obituary for Lyn that does a wonderful job of encapsulating the incredible breadth and depth of Lyn’s work.

For those who were unable to attend in person, a recording of the celebration of life service held for Lyn is now available online.

The TODAY Show paid tribute to Lyn’s life and legacy in a feature called “A Life Well Lived” that aired November 26, 2023. 

We will be sharing more information in the days, weeks, and months to come as we continue to remember Lyn McLain with immense gratitude for the program he built and the incredible legacy he leaves behind.  Our deepest condolences go out to his wife, Sally, and their family.  (updated 12/20/2023)


DCYOP Around Town: Fall Edition

Here are a few sightings of DCYOP staff and students outside the classroom:

Director of External Affairs, Betsy Purves, presented the Excellence in Youth Creativity award to nine-year-old fashion designer and author, Gabby Loftin, at the 38th annual Mayor’s Arts Awards at the Lincoln Theatre on September 28th. The Mayor’s Arts Awards is an inclusive celebration for District residents across all 8 wards that honors the city’s vibrant creative community and its patrons.






On October 22nd, DCYOP students (and board member, Dennis de Tray!) were spotted haunting the halls of the REACH at the Kennedy Center as volunteers for the National Symphony Orchestra’s annual Halloween Spooktacular concert celebration. Our students staffed the Haunted Hall Musical PLAYspace!, where they provide treats to young trick-or-treaters, demonstrated their instruments, and provided musical performances for all the attendees.



Eleven DCYOP and Washington Musical Pathways Initiative students and their families attended the Sphinx Virtuosi concert at Takoma Park Seventh-Day Adventist Church on October 21st. Sponsored by Washington Adventist University as part of its Anna H. Wang Presidential Concert Series, the Sphinx Virtuosi treated the packed venue to an exciting and engaging program of contemporary and historic works by Black and Latinx composers, including a new double double-bass concertante by member Xavier Foley, who won the Sphinx Competition in 2014. Entitled Galaxy, the work featured the composer and 2022 Sphinx Competition winner, Kebra-Seyoun Charles, as soloists in a blistering performance that brought the audience to its feet. “The Sphinx concert was fantastic!” shares DCYOP and WMPI Artist, Jonathan Stiff. “I really enjoyed the diversity in the music and composers they chose to play. A particular moment that stood out to me was when Xavier Foley played his original contrabass duet piece with Kebra Seyoun-Charles along with string ensemble. The amount of transitions in that particular piece helped to show me how versatile all the players were and how classical music can continue to take influence from other genres.”


Executive Director, Loretta Thompson, met with DCYOP families on October 21st for an informal meet and greet at Takoma Elementary School. Caregivers had the opportunity to chat with one another, learn more about Loretta and her role in the organization, and share their experiences and ideas for how DCYOP can continue to grow and evolve to meet its community’s needs.


Get to Know DCYOP – Omar Martinez

Omar at Alhambra in Granada, Spain during the 2022 YO tour.

Omar Martinez has been a teaching artist on bass with DCYOP for the last three years, during which time he’s taught everyone from our littlest beginner students to our most advanced ensemble students, including on our tour to Spain and Portugal in 2022. Despite a relatively start in his music career, Omar has found great success as both a teacher and performer, appearing everywhere from the Tiny Desk Concert series at NPR to a special Club Quarantine show at the Kennedy Center. Read on to learn more about Omar’s musical journey, his “chilaquil” tastes in music, and some of the things he likes to do when he’s not working with students or playing for audiences across DC.


Where did you grow up?
I am originally from Mexico. I grew up in a small town called Uruapan in the State of Michoacan. 
How did you get started on your instrument?
I started playing the electric bass and singing in a rock band with my friends. The first time I listened to an orchestra, the double bass was the obvious choice for me. I was always drawn to lower frequencies. I was very fortunate that my first teacher in Mexico, Victor Flores, was very encouraging even though I started at an “older” age playing the instrument. I will always remember the only thing he asked me: to sing something for him. Since then, I committed to the double bass.
Did you always want to become a professional musician? What was your path (did you play in youth orchestra growing up, study music in college, have you pursued other careers, etc.)?
 I was always drawn to music and loved it, but since I had a “late” start in classical music, being a musician was definitely not on my mind growing up. It felt like something that was very foreign to my background. Because of that, my path has not been a very traditional one. After my short adventure in rock music with my friends, I decided to attend Conservatorio de las Rosas in Morelia, Michoacan. I studied composition and double bass for 4 years. I started officially studying music when I was 21 years old. So, it has always been an uphill journey but a rewarding one. Early in my career however, I discovered my love for teaching and connecting with students. I’ve been in the US for the last 6 years, and through that, I have also had very encouraging mentors that believed in me and let me find my own path in music. During my undergraduate studies with Marcos Machado at University of Southern Mississippi and during grad school at the University of Maryland with Anthony Manzo. I am very grateful to both of them.

How long have you taught at DCYOP and what is one of your favorite memories?
This is my 3rd year teaching at DCYOP. There’s a lot of great memories: the tour in 2022 to Spain and Portugal was my first time in Europe and it has been great sharing these musical experiences with the students and other colleagues.

What do you like most about teaching?
Given my background, I love teaching. I really enjoy showing people of all ages how amazing music is and how it can transform lives. My classroom is always about figuring out your own path and growing at your own pace. The best thing about teaching is helping whoever is in front of you to figure out that path—whatever that might look like. I’ve been teaching for around 12 years, and I love to see all the things that my students are doing after music touches their life.
Do you do perform or teach outside of DCYOP?
I have a private studio and I perform with a wide range of ensembles. My training is mainly classical, so orchestra is the main thing I study and perform, but I also have experience with other genres like Jazz, Rock, and Latin. I play with the Apollo Orchestra in DC and with other orchestras in the region as a freelancer. I also have participated in amazing projects like a Tiny Desk session with Jessie Reyez and recently a concert at the Kennedy Center with Club Quarantine and DJ D-Nice.
Who is one of your favorite performers? Why?
It’s impossible to choose one. I would choose 3 different kinds of musicians: classical double bassist, Božo Paradžik, Mexican singer-songwriter, Natalia Lafourcade, and the American artist, Nina Simone. For me, they achieve what I admire the most about performers, the ability to share and express with their music all the range of human emotions.

What is one of your favorite pieces of music? Why?
This one is even harder; If you would see my playlists, it is kind of a “chilaquil,” a very eclectic mix. So, it can usually be whatever I am studying, practicing, or enjoying at the moment. This past week was Bach third cello suite, Brahms Symphony No. 2, “Mood” by Jessie Reyes, “Hasta la Muerte” by Ivan Cornejo. This is just based on what I performed and listened to the most. Next week, it might be something totally different.

What are your interests outside of music? 
I really enjoy biking as a form of recreation and exercise, but also as a legitimate form of transportation. So, you can find me ranting about car free infrastructure and people-focused cities. I am also a big soccer fan, especially following my team Cruz Azul from Mexico and the Mexican national team.
Where is your favorite place to go for fun or what is your favorite thing to do in DC?
I love exploring different parts of the city on my bike. I like to explore new coffee shops and parks. I really enjoy riding my bike through Rock Creek Park and the different trails around Maryland and DC.


Throwback Tuesday: DCYOP’s Youth Orchestra Performance at the Kennedy Center

We’re brightening up your Tuesday morning with a throwback to a major highlight of last season, the Youth Orchestra’s grand finale performance on the Concert Hall stage of the Kennedy Center last June. The dynamic program consisted of works by Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, Ottorino Respighi, David Diamond, Pablo de Sarasate, and Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, and featured our own Anton Doan, who is currently a freshman at the University of Maryland, College Park.

Watch the video below of the Youth Orchestra’s powerful performance of Samuel Coleridge-Taylor’s Ballade, and then be sure to visit our YouTube channel to view the rest of this special concert. Be on the lookout for another fantastic Youth Orchestra concert on the Kennedy Center Concert Hall stage in the spring of 2024 – we hope to see you there!


Allison Loggins-Hull Inspires Wonder at DCYOP

DCYOP was honored to host Allison Loggins-Hull, acclaimed composer and flutist, for an early rehearsal of her new piece, “Wonder,” the latest piece in a series of works commissioned through the K-12 New Music Project, an initiative that seeks to diversify the student repertoire by commissioning historically excluded composers to write music specifically for elementary, middle, high school, and youth orchestras.

As she shared the inspiration for her piece, Loggins-Hull explained that she spent a lot of time thinking about what it might be like to experience an orchestra for the first time and what feelings that might inspire in a young person. “The feeling that I came up with is this feeling of wonder. It’s this idea of discovery and being young…even beyond orchestra, anytime you do anything for the first time or explore something different, especially in a group with like-minded people, there’s a really great sense of wonder. That’s the mood.”

The powerhouse composer, flutist, and producer, who is currently the Cleveland Orchestra’s eleventh Daniel R. Lewis Composer Fellow, definitely left our students feeling both wonder and awe at the opportunity to both learn directly from the source and help shape a completely new orchestral work.

“It was amazing to get to work with Allison and take part in music that’s being created right now,” shared violinist Pedro Goutay. “We’re so used to playing music by these old masters and we’re not always sure of interpretation…to have her right here to help us inform our performance was really great.”

DCYOP’s Youth Orchestra will give the world premiere of “Wonder” at its fall concert taking place December 17th at the University of the District of Columbia’s Theater of the Arts. Watch the video below to hear directly from Loggins-Hull about the experience of working with students through the K-12 New Music Project and get a behind the scenes look at her visit, including a sneak preview of “Wonder.”