Our Founders

The Bidlacks came to the Lehigh Valley eager for community involvement.  Their own history of working with young musicians in private schools and in a summer music school made the creation of a youth orchestra a very natural challenge.  They identified the need and made the commitment of energy to meet it and area teachers all urged their qualified students to participate.  The confidence and respect Nancy and Jerry had already earned from their musical peers made their efforts at organizing such a project both effective and enduring.

Jerry Thomas Bidlack was born in 1931 in Ohio.  As a high school student he played organ in his church and also started a band and played for his mother’s friends.  She was mortified when he passed the hat after the show.

As a senior in high school, Jerry’s interests were split evenly between music and engineering.  However, when he spoke to a representative from Oberlin Conservatory he was convinced to attend and music won out.  Much later in his life, Jerry would return to his interest in engineering in the form of a fascination with clock works and clock repair.  

He graduated from Oberlin Conservatory of Music in 1953, and that summer became the first conductor of the Oberlin Gilbert & Sullivan Players on Cape Cod, which he continued to conduct until 1957.  He went on to earn a Masters of Music from Boston University’s School of Fine and Applied Arts.

Jerry had a long and distinguished music teaching career, which began at Buxton School in Williamstown, MA.  Jerry was a master of multiple instruments, an inspirational teacher, and well respected by all who knew him. He composed many scores for the school’s drama productions and graduation ceremonies.  

Jerry moved to Bethlehem, PA to join the faculty at Lehigh University in 1973 as the conductor of the Women’s Chorus and Lehigh String Orchestra.  He served as Director of the Chamber Music and String Orchestra programs, the Director of the Music at Lehigh Concert Series, and as the University Organist. Jerry chaired the Music department from 1980 until 1986 and continued to serve in the department as organist, conductor, and teacher of music theory until his retirement in 1995.

In the summer of 1967, Jerry was a substitute conductor at Kinhaven Music School in Weston, Vermont and returned to conduct, direct, or advise every summer for the rest of his life. It was there that he met an inspiring young cellist, Nancy, whom he married in the summer of 1974.  

In 1976, Jerry and Nancy founded the Young People’s Philharmonic, the first symphony orchestra for high school students in the Lehigh Valley, when the need, expertise, and facilities all emerged at the same time.  Leadership of many Lehigh departments enthusiastically endorsed the project.  From the beginning, Lehigh University provided boundless in-kind support in the form of rehearsal and office space, music stands, heat, chairs, and percussion instruments.

Jerry would conduct young people through this organization and others for the rest of his life.  Humor and benevolence were key aspects in his style of teaching and conducting, though he never sacrificed his expectations; quite the opposite.  Students were drawn to him because of his authenticity paired with the high expectations he held for them.  Jerry’s goal was to inspire joy in his students and a love of the music they were playing.

Nancy Bidlack was born in Hackensack, New Jersey in 1947 and proved to be a promising cellist from a young age.  In 1969 she completed a Bachelor’s in Music Performance from Manhattan School of Music where she studied with David Wells.  Several years later she obtained a Master’s of Music from Temple University where she studied with Orlando Cole.

In the early days of her career, Nancy taught cello at The Putney School in Vermont.  She was a gifted performer and chamber musician, a kind teacher, and an excellent chamber music coach.  A student, commenting on her style said, “She was an elegant player, and sensitive.  There was something very social about the way she talked about music.  She put important and deep concepts into plain and down to earth language.”  Another student commented, “Nancy had wonderful ways of teaching the most refined techniques for cello.  She would find the student’s strong points and build from that.  She was very demanding but the student would never feel under pressure, because of the way she presented her ideas.”

In 1970, Nancy took a job at Kinhaven Music School, a summer program in Vermont for high school students.  It was there that she met Jerry Bidlack and they married 4 years later.  Nancy continued to make Kinhaven an integral part of her professional life.  In 1990, after much preparation, she saw the launch of the Kinhaven Junior Session, a two week sleep-away experience for middle school aged students to take lessons, play in orchestra and study chamber music.  Nancy became director of both the Junior Session and the full 6-week program in 2004, when Jerry stepped down.

When Nancy moved to the Lehigh Valley she continued to teach and perform.  As a performing cellist, she played in the Ralph Van Arnam piano trio, the Northeast Philharmonic, and the Bethlehem Bach Choir Festival Orchestra, for which she was also Personnel Manager.  She also served as principal cello in the Lehigh Valley Chamber Orchestra for the entirety of its existence.  She served on the faculty of the Music Departments of Moravian College and Lehigh University.  

Nancy and her husband, Jerry Bidlack, founded the Young People’s Philharmonic and the Junior String Philharmonic in 1976, touching the lives of hundreds of young musicians in the Lehigh Valley.  In addition to her talents as a music teacher and performer, Nancy was a gifted administrator and leader.  She had an uncanny memory for names and a mind for problem solving.  She served as the General Manager of the organization at the outset and later as the conductor of the Junior String Philharmonic until the spring of 2010.

In 2008, Nancy had been diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s Disease, or ALS.  Due to the progression of her symptoms, she lost the ability to play her cello or conduct.  However, she did not lose the ability to speak, which is uncommon for ALS, and in 2012 she formed two student string quartets and was able to continue engagement in her musical life through coaching chamber music.  She passed a few months later at the age of 65.  Though it seems tragically short, she touched a great number of students in her time.