La Crosse Youth Symphony Orchestra

By Kim Seidel 

If you’ve never been to a La Crosse Area Youth Symphony Orchestra (LYSO) concert, now is the perfect time to get your seat. This year marks LYSO’s 50th anniversary, and the concert to celebrate this grand occasion will be held March 19.

“The performance provides an excellent opportunity for people to see the high caliber of young talent that participates in LYSO, and what a great organization it is in the arts community,” says Kathi Millard, LYSO manager. “Attending the concert would be a fun way to spend a couple of hours on a Sunday afternoon.”

Holding the show at Viterbo University’s Fine Arts Center will create part of the anniversary magic, as that was the site of LYSO’s first concert a half-century ago. For many of the performers, this gives them their first opportunity to play at a larger venue. In recent years, most LYSO concerts have been held at Onalaska High School. 

The audience will enjoy a vibrant concert performed by 85 students, the highest number of youth musicians in several years, Millard says. Randall Mastin leads and serves as artistic director of LYSO. He also serves as conductor of one of the two LYSO orchestras, the Italiano Orchestra. 

“We have an excellent group this year,” Millard says. “Each concert season, we have the drive and desire to offer music that’s different and challenging for the students. That’s a benefit for concert-goers too. It’s always a great show and this year will be the best ever.”

Concert Highlights

The anniversary concert features the debut performance of a specially commissioned piece by the well-known composer Robert W. Smith. LYSO alumni from the past 50 years are invited to participate in performing the commissioned piece and reconnect with family and friends. 

Other concert highlights include recognition of all past conductors and staff, a piece played at one of the first LYSO concerts, and several guest conductors. Family members of Frank J. Italiano, who created LYSO in 1967, will also be recognized at the concert. 

While LYSO has evolved over the past 50 years, the organization holds the same goals for young musicians: to gain valuable musical experience and obtain insight into the techniques of their particular instruments from faculty who are professional musicians and teachers. The LYSO offers youth the opportunity to enjoy performing in an orchestra and to appreciate the arts, whether as a performer, future teacher, or an avid arts audience member. 

“LYSO has been instrumental in serving as that springboard for future music professionals,” Millard says. “The organization was the spark that made them realize they could make a career out of music.”

Dedication Required

As a member of LYSO, students receive a pre-professional experience, starting at auditions. With rehearsals held for nine weeks on weekends each semester, dedication automatically tops the membership requirements. LYSO naturally attracts students committed to their music; many travel from throughout the tri-state area, Millard says. 

During the anniversary concert, the audience will enjoy music from LYSO’s two groups: the Philharmonic Orchestra and the Italiano Orchestra. Fifth- to eighth-graders typically participate in Philharmonic, conducted by Linda Lebakken. High school sophomores through seniors play in Italiano. 

The fruits of LYSO’s hard work and the dedication from all students and their families and faculty throughout the past 50 years are set to fully shine forth at the anniversary concert.

Tickets are only available through Viterbo University’s Box Office online at Alumni are invited to visit LYSO’s website to register for events at