COMMUNITY GEM: Musician Shirley Mullins builds orchestra in Yellow Springs

Shirley Mullins co-founded the Yellow Springs Youth Orchestra Association almost 60 years ago

Shirley Mullins moved to Yellow Springs and wanted to start an orchestra, but she didn’t have music, stands, chairs or sponsors.

What she did have was a passion for music and a yearning to share that with others.

So she placed a short ad in the newspaper. No talent required, no experience needed. And with that, 25 kids showed up.

From those humble beginnings almost 60 years ago, the Yellow Springs Youth Orchestra Association is still going strong.

“It’s been a vital part of the community ever since,” she said.

Mullins, now 88, had already built a successful orchestra from scratch in Iowa, where she was living at the time before her husband accepted a job in Yellow Springs. She didn’t want to move and wasn’t looking forward to starting again. That feeling eventually disappeared.

“(Moving) was the best thing that ever happened,” she said.

The Yellow Springs Youth Orchestra Association was co-founded in 1965 by Mullins. Today the association offers a summer camp and has also widened its focus to the larger community. This includes the Yellow Springs Strings ensemble that holds weekly practices at the Yellow Springs Senior Center.

Mullins grew up in Iowa, and music became an important part of her life at a young age. First she studied piano, later adding the trumpet and then the cello. She carried on with the cello and piano at the University of Iowa and taught in Iowa City until her move to Ohio. She continued her studies as an adult, driving to Bloomington, Ind., every other Saturday for lessons with a world-class cellist there.

After her family, the cello was the most important thing in her life, she said.

“No one has had more of an impact in the arts in Yellow Springs than Shirley Mullins,” said Tom Duffee, who nominated her as a Dayton Daily News Community Gem.

Mullins was Duffee’s orchestra director at Yellow Springs High School in the 1970s, where he played the cello. Now he plays viola and string bass with the Yellow Springs Strings, as well as the banjo in a fiddle band.

She was demanding as an instructor, but “she took people under her wing and guided them,” getting the best out of her students, he said.

“She continues to have an influence on young people especially,” Duffee said.

Mullins spread her love of music throughout the local schools, teaching orchestra, chamber music and cello at Yellow Springs High School. She retired from teaching in 2000, but she still occasionally directs.

That includes earlier this year. She moved from Yellow Springs to a retirement community in Fairborn, and the Yellow Springs Strings performed for her and other residents there. She conducted a tune during the visit.

“It felt wonderful,” Mullins said.

She may have been hesitant about moving to Ohio, but when so many kids were eager to learn after such a short newspaper ad, she knew that something good was in the offing.

“The community opened itself up to us,” she said.

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