B i o g r a p h y



Helen is currently the Artistic Director of the Wharton Institute for the Performing Arts and the Principal Conductor of the New Jersey Youth Symphony. The Wharton Arts is New Jersey’s largest independent non-profit community performing arts education center serving over 1,400 students from 13 different counties of New Jersey through a range of classes at Wharton Performing Arts School, 15 performing ensembles at New Jersey Youth Symphony and Paterson Music Project, an El Sistema-inspired program serving children every day at 5 different sites in the city of Paterson, NJ.  She previously served as Visiting Associate Professor of Orchestral Studies and Conductor of the Montclair University Symphony Orchestra at the John J. Cali School of Music (NJ) from 2017 to 2019. 


For 16 years as Music Director and Conductor of the Empire State Youth Orchestra (NY), Helen inspired hundreds of young musicians to perform at the highest levels, resulting in Empire State Youth Orchestras being recognized as one of the nation’s premier music organizations for youth. Helen regularly programmed a wide range of music embracing many different cultures. Her vision resulted in three prestigious ASCAP awards and a $100,000 grant to partially fund a music festival that commissioned nine works, one for each ESYO ensemble. She conducted the orchestra in outstanding concert halls including Troy Savings Bank Music Hall, Zankel Hall, EMPAC, Tanglewood’s Ozawa Hall, and Carnegie Hall.  She led the orchestra on three international tours: to Europe in 2008, China and South Korea in 2012, and Portugal in 2016. Helen’s vision was instrumental in the founding of ESYO CHIME in 2015, a music education program dedicated to serving underprivileged youth in Schenectady and Troy, NY. In 2018, ESYO established the Helen Cha-Pyo Golden Baton Award and Scholarships for students who embody her passionate commitment to music as a means to uplift and enrich communities. 


From 1996 to 2002, Helen served as Artistic Director and Conductor of the Riverside Philharmonic Orchestra and Choir and Associate Director of Music at The Riverside Church in New York City. A committed music educator, she pioneered the Riverside Music Educational Program, which served thousands of New York City public school children. Helen worked regularly in Kenya as Artistic Director of the Kenya Jirani Choir and Harlem Jirani Ensemble (NY) of the Jirani Cultural Organization from 2009 – 2012.  She trained artistic staff and conducted the Jirani Choirs on their U.S. tour in 2010 and conducted the 5th anniversary concert at the Sejong Cultural Center (S. Korea) in 2011. 


Born in Seoul, Helen immigrated to the US when she was 12. She studied piano and organ in the Pre-College Program at The Juilliard School. She holds a Bachelor of Music in organ performance from Oberlin Conservatory and a Master of Music in conducting and organ performance from the Eastman School of Music. She served as assistant conductor to the Eastman Philharmonia and the Britt Festival Orchestra (OR). She also won a conducting fellowship at the Aspen Festival and Yale School of Music. Her conducting mentors include David Effron, Murry Sidlin, Lawrence Leighton Smith, Benjamin Zander and Kurt Mazur. She is a frequent guest conductor and clinician for All State and Regional Festival Orchestras throughout the country including NY, NJ, TX, and NE, and spends her summers at Kinhaven School (VT). She has also appeared as guest conductor and clinician for the ASTA National Orchestra festival (NM), the Newport Youth Orchestra Festival (OR) and the Ithaca College Summer Music Academy (NY).  She serves as a board member for the Youth Orchestra Division of the League of American Orchestras. She resides in Morristown, New Jersey with her husband and two sons.