The Youth Ensemble of New England (YENE) is an outgrowth of the New England Youth Ensemble (NEYE), a youth orchestra founded in 1968 by Dr. Virginia-Gene Rittenhouse in Sterling, Massachusetts. The orchestra began in Dr. Rittenhouse's living room as a violin quartet to encourage four young violinists to practice their instrument but soon grew into a full-fledged youth orchestra that traveled worldwide to over 40 countries. Dr. Rittenhouse was a child prodigy on both the piano and the violin and was the first person awarded a doctorate in music by Peabody Conservatory (Johns Hopkins). She also was a composer and visionary who became a master teacher on both the piano and the violin. The orchestra was initially based at Atlantic Union College, in South Lancaster, Massachusetts and later moved to Washington Adventist University in Tacoma Park, Maryland, where it is still based. In addition to traveling worldwide, the orchestra played concerts throughout the United States, including over 100 concerts in Carnegie Hall, New York City.
The New England Youth Ensemble and Dr. Rittenhouse were a great influence on many young people who were members of the orchestra, and when some of these young people grew up and started their own families they wished for a similar experience for their own children. In 2001 these parents asked Dr. Rittenhouse to start a youth orchestra for their children. Dr. Rittenhouse invited her niece, Dr. Connie Rittenhouse Drexler to assist her with this younger group, and another Youth Ensemble was born. Initially, this youth orchestra was composed of only strings and was called the New England Youth Chamber Ensemble. Later, when Dr. Rittenhouse found it too much to run two orchestras she asked her niece to take over the younger group. This orchestra became a full-fledged youth orchestra encompassing strings, woodwinds, brass, and percussion and the name was later changed to the Youth Ensemble of New England. Although Dr. Virginia-Gene Rittenhouse has now passed away her legacy lives on in her students, her musical compositions, and in the many musical groups that have been founded by her students.