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By Nina Garin

Mark Bennett, SDYS board chair, joins the orchestra’s journey to China

Next week, young musicians from the San Diego Youth Symphony and Conservatory (SDYS) will head to China to perform four concerts, including one in San Diego’s sister city, Yantai.

And Thursday the group performs a free Bon Voyage concert at 7:30 p.m. in Balboa Park.

As the Board Chair of SDYS, Mark Bennett, who is also on the board of the San Diego – Yantai Friendship Society, will be traveling with the student musicians.

The Mission Hills resident, 62, works as a labor and employment lawyer with Slovak, Baron, Empey, Murphy & Pinkney, but devotes his free time to mentor and raise awareness for the nonprofit organization. He also plays the piano.

Bennett, who was raised in Maine and moved to San Diego in 1984 after graduating from law school in Miami, explains why the youth orchestra and its upcoming trip is so important.

Q: What is the San Diego Youth Symphony and Conservatory?

A: Now celebrating its 70th anniversary, SDYS currently offers quality music education to over 600 students in ten ensembles from its home in Balboa Park. SDYS is open to students ages 8 to 25 and welcomes musicians of all skill levels ranging from beginner to pre-professional. SDYS is also an advocate for the benefits of music education and is working to make it accessible and affordable to all children.

Q: Why did you become involved with the organization?

A: Years ago, I served as a volunteer at The Monarch School for homeless students. The young student I was mentoring wanted to take clarinet lessons and I was directed to SDYS. He auditioned, got in and participated for several years. I got to know the organization and saw how valuable it was.

Q: What is the goal of SDYS’ trip to China?

A: The tour aims to build goodwill and cultural understanding with SDYS’ Chinese hosts through the common bond of love for classical music. The tour also opens the door for future collaborations and plants the seed for the launch of youth music education programs in our Sister City of Yantai. The assistance and support from the San Diego-Yantai Friendship Society and its board contributed greatly to making this tour possible. Of course, the tour would not be possible without Qualcomm’s support.

Q: What will the young musicians be doing there?

A: The orchestra will perform four concerts (in Beijing, Yantai and Shanghai). When not rehearsing or performing, our musicians, accompanied by their Chinese peers, will tour many of China’s cultural attractions, including the Great Wall, Beijing’s Tiananmen Square and the Bund in Shanghai. During a special visit to the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing, our students will interact with top-performing Chinese students and enjoy a unique demonstration of Chinese instruments.

Q: Why is music a good way for these two countries to connect?

A: Music weaves its spell across cultures and languages. It holds the attention of children and adults. Music taps our emotions and creates memories that last a lifetime.

Q: What is the San Diego – Yantai Friendship Society (SDYFS) and what is its purpose?

A: SDYFS was established in 1985 to foster mutual understanding and friendship between the San Diego and the municipality of Yantai in the People’s Republic of China through cultural and educational exchanges. It also assists in facilitating and promoting business and strengthening governmental relations through delegation visits.

Q: In your opinion, why is being involved with the SDYS beneficial to a child?

A: We hear time and again from our families how playing music in an orchestra has value in unique and meaningful ways. Students make meaningful connections and learn to work collaboratively as part of a group. They learn discipline through committing to prioritizing rehearsal in order to master their pieces. This often translates to other areas of their lives like academic performance. Young people develop high levels of self confidence as they continue to master progressively difficult repertoire.

Q: What is the best advice you ever received?

A: Law school was hard, and despite the temptation to give up, my friends and I decided “We’re not quitting! They will have to throw us out!” So the best advice we gave ourselves was never give up, just keep trying.

Q: What is one thing people would be surprised to find out about you?

A: I once went scuba diving for clams … in December … in Maine.

Q: Please describe your ideal San Diego weekend.

A: I like walking in my neighborhood and discovering all the nooks and crannies in this area. There’s always something to discover, an interesting building, a hidden bridge or even the names of original builders and contractorsstenciled into the pavement.

San Diego Youth Symphony