Remembering Betty Perry
Beloved founder of the Metropolitan Youth Orchestra
The Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra mourns the loss of Betty Perry, whose phenomenal commitment to music education led to the creation of the Metropolitan Youth Orchestra. Connecting students with life-changing opportunities through music was among Perry’s proudest achievements in a remarkable career that touched countless students through the years. Perry, who passed away February 11, 2022, after a courageous battle with pancreatic cancer, often reflected on the pathway that music provided in her own life, and translated that passion into a legacy that continues today.
Perry was raised in the Bronx, where she spent her early life in orphanages and foster homes. When she was nine years old, she and two of her seven siblings went to live with her grandmother. Although Perry faced many obstacles as a child, she acknowledged the stability that her grandmother provided for the first time in her young life. Another milestone arrived in the form of music lessons, thanks to a scholarship to the Third Street Music School Settlement. Perry recalled being moved to tears by the first live youth orchestra rehearsal she attended, and knew that music would be a part of her life going forward.
Perry attended the New York College of Music and was involved in the formation of the Harlem Symphony. She and her husband, Ed, took an 11-year hiatus from music to raise their family and moved to Indianapolis in 1978. Concerned by the lack of African-American participation at an Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra concert, Perry was inspired to launch a program to encourage children and parents from underprivileged areas to take up music lessons. Perry held annual concerts to celebrate students’ achievements and show them the bonds they could create through music. These activities laid the groundwork for the Metropolitan Youth Orchestra.
With its beginnings at the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis in 1995, the Metropolitan Youth Orchestra became affiliated with the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra in 2008. Through her leadership of MYO, Perry’s work as an ISO community ambassador was invaluable, both in terms of the impact she made on young lives and in helping the ISO connect with the community in deep and meaningful ways. From her own experience in discovering the transformative nature of music as a child, Perry understood the importance of creating a safe and loving environment for students to develop life skills through the rehearsal and performance of music.
In a living testament to Perry’s impact, MYO alumna Krystle Ford now directs MYO, carrying on Perry’s legacy and living out her vision for MYO.
“I’m forever grateful to Ms. Perry that she trusted me enough to carry out her legacy,” said Ford. “MYO shaped me into the adult I am today and I can’t thank her enough for her love, encouragement and endless support. She will be missed terribly. I feel comfort knowing that she is proud of us and the work that continues to impact the lives of so many families.”
“From the beginning, my vision was to teach an appreciation for the arts, to facilitate communication within a family, and to demonstrate how playing music together can be a transforming experience,” said Perry in a 2008 interview.
With more than 200 families participating in MYO every year, Perry’s unceasing commitment continues to create positive outcomes. MYO students have a 100-percent high school graduation rate and many go on to earn scholarships and pursue careers in music. In building a space that is respectful, inclusive, and supportive, Perry provided students and their families with opportunities to connect with one another, generate beneficial relationships and develop leadership skills, with a love of performing live music at the heart. The Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra is deeply grateful for Betty Perry’s dedication to music education that will help shape the future of our organization and our community for generations to come.
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We know that Betty touched so many lives in the Indianapolis community. To celebrate and honor Betty, we encourage you to leave your memories, Betty-isms, and other thoughts below.