Finding the music in everyone

The Bellingen Youth Orchestra was founded by talented musicians and exceptional educators Ann Phelan and Elizabeth Scott. Bellingen, a small regional town of some 3000 people, is nestled between the sea and the Great Dividing Range on the Mid North Coast of NSW. In 2007, a visit to the town by Richard Tognetti and the Australian Chamber Orchestra included an extra afternoon performance for school students and an idea was born.


From this inspirational moment, Ann and Elizabeth came to realise the hunger in students to be part of something bigger than themselves. The pair drew on their great wealth of experience and began forging valuable partnerships, both local and national, in order to support the young players; they began with 16 players and a vision. The Bellingen Youth Orchestra now proudly supports over 100 registered players across three ensembles. In 2007 there were 71 violin players in the Bellingen Shire, today there are more than 500 young people learning orchestral instruments supported by over 30 inspirational music teachers.

With regular concerts each year, the BYO hosts workshops and performances with musicians from ensembles such as the Australian Chamber Orchestra, the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, the Australian Haydn Ensemble and the Acacia Quartet to ensure it remains a platform for musical ingenuity and exploration. The BYO proudly supports each of its students as they find their own musical pathways. Some have become involved with programs run by the Australian Youth Orchestra and the ACO Academy, others have joined the NSW Arts Unit Tour of the UK and Ireland and others have gone on to study and follow careers in music. It is, however, the opportunity to inspire a lifelong love of music that remains a foundation to all of the endeavours of the BYO and they celebrate the moments when music students become musicians.

The Bellingen Youth Orchestra’s strength lies not only in the talent and energy of its young players but in the support and relationships founded in its community. The orchestra has flourished through the commitment of music teachers and community volunteers, as well as the continued patronage of David and Gillian Helfgott. David Helfgott continues to perform annually with the BYO.

From its inception, the orchestra has developed programmes to support the musical education of young players, with a driving philosophy to provide opportunity for all.

Providing a range of instruments to primary schools, the Orchestra enables access to learn, explore and experience musical interests from a young age. Access to instruments and school music programs provide music pathways for young people through their schooling years and beyond

To ensure that all BYO players have access to their music programmes the BYO relies on its continued collaboration with the Bellingen Shire community. Their long term supporter ‘Camp Creative’ have shared this vision by providing many young players with scholarship opportunities to assist with the cost of lessons and maintenance of instruments over a number of years. The Rotary and the Lions Club have contributed to the purchase of instruments and uniforms for the Orchestra and the Bellingen Fine Music Festival has provided resources to support music composition and recording by local students. Nationally, enduring partnerships with the Australian Youth Orchestra, Australian Chamber Orchestra and Sydney Symphony Orchestra have elevated local players’ understanding of performance to an unprecedented level.

The benefits of these connections have been extended far beyond the student participants to the many hundreds who have attended concerts over the past 15 years.

In 2016, the Bellingen Youth Orchestra became an incorporated not-for-profit association. It relies on the continued hard work of its volunteers and committee members to ensure the experiences and musical opportunities for all young aspiring players continue to grow.

Artistic Team

The BYO Ensembles are proud to work with an incredible team of highly qualified music teachers. These inspiring educators are committed to supporting and motivating the players through each of the weekly rehearsals and regular performances, forging strong mentoring relationships. The broad range of musical expertise provided by this team ensures each section of the orchestra is an integral part contributing powerfully to the whole.

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Bellingen Youth Orchestra Patrons

The Bellingen Youth Orchestra was founded in 2007, it was encouraged and actively supported by patrons David and Gillian Helfgott who helped shape it into the dynamic and successful orchestra it is today.

David, born in Melbourne in 1947, has spent so much of his life sharing his great love of music with so many. Whether in concerts across the globe or with young and aspiring players, David has captivated musicians and audiences alike who recognise the passion and human spirit woven through his repertoire.

Gillian Helfgott passed away in 2022. She was a passionate advocate for the Arts and her understanding of the importance of music in the lives of young people resonated strongly within the local community. She worked with the Bellingen Youth Orchestra to introduce new generations of players to the world of musical performance. Her legacy and inspiring spirit remain a part of the Bellingen Youth Orchestra.

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Together, David and Gillian have been a great inspiration for all the young performers who have worked with the Bellingen Youth Orchestra. David continues to play regularly with the Orchestra and, through rehearsals and performances, generously shares his great love and understanding of music. As our Patron and a teacher, David Helfgott reminds our players of the possibilities music can bring each of us; of the way music can forge our place in the world and help us to find connections and see things we might never have imagined possible.


Bellingen Youth Orchestra Volunteers

The continued success of Bellingen Youth Orchestra relies on the support and dedication of its community. Since 2007, the BYO has been supported by an incredible team of volunteers who have contributed diverse skills and expertise in areas of catering, accounting, law, lighting and sound, marketing and graphic design, communication, logistics, IT, costuming and photography. The BYO also recognises the many hundreds of hours of assistance in labour, transport and cleaning provided by volunteers.

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The Bellingen Youth Orchestra remains incredibly grateful for the continued dedication of all of the people who set aside time to help enable all young people to follow musical pathways. All volunteers form part of a collaborative team following a Bellingen Youth Orchestra Code of Conduct and working to support all aspects of the Orchestra’s activities.

In 2016 the Bellingen Youth Orchestra became an incorporated association and is now coordinated by a Committee who work with the Artistic Team and volunteers to oversee the operation of the association.

Committee Members         Academic Year 2024

Artistic Director:  Annie Phelan

President: David Neville

Vice President: Katharine Sutherland

Treasurer:  James Davis

Secretary: Rainee Herron

Public Officer: Rainee Herron

Committee Members 

BYO String School Director: Jacquie Gill

BYO Teacher: Susan McGowan

BYO Teacher:  Elizabeth Scott

Instrument Support: Peter Pollard        

Media and Publicity: Rainee Herron


Please click here for the full list of frequently asked questions.

Please click here for the 2021 President’s Report

Please click here for the 2022 President’s Report.

More than just an orchestra
More than just music

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