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Looking Back: History of the Tucson Youth Music Center


In 1952, the Tucson Symphony Orchestra founded a women’s auxiliary known as the Tucson Symphony Women’s Association. The purpose of TSWA was to raise funds for the Tucson Symphony Orchestra (TSO).

Public funding for music education, meanwhile, was in a decline. TSWA Member and University of Arizona Music Professor Edna Church, Ph.D., observed that children attending school in low-income areas were particularly hard hit. School administrators confirmed this troublesome trend.

TSWA’s team of volunteers, led by Professor Church, embarked on the creation of a free piano program targeting children of limited means. The program started modestly enough, with Professor Church as the teacher, using paper keyboards in the backroom of The Treasure Shop. She recruited some of her graduate students to help with lessons, two pianos were donated, and the program took hold.


In order to accommodate more students, Professor Church instituted a piano lab with eight Yamaha Clavinovas and a camera-equipped console that allowed the teacher to monitor each student individually and also help them play together.

In the late 1970’s, TSWA purchased three buildings on East 15th Street in Tucson, between 6th Avenue and Stone Avenue. After repair and remodeling, these buildings served as an antique shop (The Treasure Shop), the Encore Boutique (a high-end resale shop), the Second Fiddle (a thrift store), and an office building for TSO. The retail activities provided a revenue stream to benefit TSO.

The TSWA program of music education for qualifying children continued to grow throughout the 19080s and 1990s. Eventually, a fully equipped piano lab found its home in the TSWA building on the southeast corner of East 15th Street and Stone Avenue. To commemorate the 50th anniversary of TSWA, the corner building was dedicated in 2002 as the TSWA Music Education Center.

That same year, another instrument was added – the folkloric marimba under the direction of TSO’s principal percussionist Homero Ceron. As well, in memory of former UA School of Music faculty member and world-renowned TSO principal clarinetist John Denman, TSWA started the Kinder Klari program. Kinder Klari is an Eb clarinet designed by Mr. Denman for younger players whose fingers are not yet big enough to hold correctly a traditionally sized Bb clarinet. Unlike other beginner clarinets, Mr. Denman’s was a fully authentic clarinet.


In January 2009, the organization formally revised its mission to focus solely on the provision of music education for Tucson’s underprivileged children and changed its name from the Tucson Symphony Women’s Association to The Symphony Women’s Association.

Hundreds of young musicians continued to come through the doors of this organization each year, benefitting from a rich history and the commitment of decades of volunteers, shop workers, parents, teachers, and board members.

Today, funding for the arts, including music education, has nearly disappeared from public school budgets. The program, now called the Tucson Youth Music Center, has become even more integral to families searching for access to music education.

Looking Ahead: Expanding on the Mission


The Tucson Youth Music Center is funded solely through private support in the form of gifts from individuals, foundations, bequests, corporations, and grants. Through these private sector partnerships, the Board is able to honor and advance the mission, develop more programming to reach even more deserving students, ensure the retention of the finest teachers, enhance its inventory of instruments and music supplies, and continue to deliver a quality music education experience.


In the context of its mission and with the support of community partners, a TYMC Strategic Plan was approved by the Board in 2021. We live in a world that demands flexibility and nimble responses to unforeseen situations. The Plan is therefore treated as a living document that, by necessity, will change and evolve in order to stay relevant within the context of the Plan’s major assumptions and today’s fluid environment.