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Our Story

One of the first San Diego Youth Symphony orchestras in 1946.

“Lives enriched through music”

Overview

For 75 years, San Diego Youth Symphony and Conservatory (SDYS) has served as a catalyst for investing in the future of thousands of young San Diegans through the study and performance of music. Through SDYS’ flagship ensemble program in historic Balboa Park, its neighborhood engagement collaborations across San Diego County, and its early childhood music curriculum, SDYS is San Diego’s most comprehensive provider of cradle-to-college music education programming and a national leader in innovative community outreach, serving thousands of young musicians and their families every year. 

At SDYS, we believe that music is a vehicle for giving young people the social, emotional, and academic skills that transcend traditional educational models and prepare them to enter a 21st-century workforce. We respect every young person who takes part in our programs and celebrate their accomplishments as musicians, as members of our community, and as future leaders in San Diego and across the nation. 

 

Our Mission

San Diego Youth Symphony (SDYS) instills excellence in musical achievement and personal growth through rigorous and inspiring music education experiences.

 

Our Values

 In its work with young musicians across San Diego County, SDYS embraces the following values:

  • Commitment
  • Creativity
  • Equity
  • Collaboration
  • Service
 

History

San Diego Youth Symphony and Conservatory (SDYS) was founded in 1945 by conductor Leo Scheer, whose vision to give young people in San Diego the opportunity to express themselves through music has grown and transformed dramatically over the past 75 years. What began as a single orchestra with a handful of talented students has grown to offer a variety of programs serving thousands of young people from six weeks to 22 years old from diverse socio-economic backgrounds.  SDYS is the sixth oldest continuously operating youth symphony in the country and carries with that history a mission of excellence in music education and of creating innovative access to inspiring music education experiences for every young person who dreams of playing in an orchestra.

SDYS students have had the opportunity to perform around the world as part of our large ensembles. Since its founding, SDYS musicians have undertaken thirteen international concert tours in eighteen different countries. In addition, this year marks the sixteenth year of SDYS’ partnership with the Rotary International Youth Exchange in staging the only Rotary-sponsored International Youth Symphony program in the nation. Each summer, SDYS welcomes dozens of students from as many as 30 countries who receive pre-professional level musical training while exploring the beauty and culture of Southern California.

A milestone in SDYS’ history occurred more than two decades ago, when it expanded from serving only highly-skilled student musicians to serving students at all levels. Multiple levels of orchestras and ensembles with sequential curricula were established to accommodate students with different experience levels, resulting in a significant increase in enrollment. As part of this effort, SDYS worked diligently to diversify its student population. While historically, most students had been White or Asian and from high-income, well-educated families, SDYS tuition assistance programs continue to help open the doors to the SDYS experience to students from across San Diego county.

In the 1990s, SDYS focused on how the power of music can transform the lives of students from underserved communities by beginning its extensive tuition assistance program serving families in need.  In addition to tuition assistance, SDYS provides a variety of wrap-around services to ensure every student’s success, including instrument loans, sponsored group or private lessons, parent engagement strategies, and more. No student is turned away due to financial circumstances and any student who qualifies for the federal free/reduced lunch program automatically receives a tuition waiver. In the 2000s, SDYS expanded on this concept by inaugurating community-based music programs. An early program to teach African drumming and Western Classical percussion to students at Oak Park Elementary School resulted in the students achieving higher academic success than their peers. Many of those students advanced into SDYS’ ensemble program in Balboa Park. 

In 2008, San Diego Youth Symphony and Conservatory was accepted to the League of American Orchestras’ three-year Institutional Vision Program. Through the strategic visioning process, SDYS adopted the goal of Making Music Education Accessible and Affordable for All. In 2010,  and in response to increasing cuts to arts programs in California schools, SDYS launched the Community Opus Project in partnership with the Chula Vista Elementary School District (CVESD). Inspired by Venezuela’s successful El Sistema youth orchestra programs, the Community Opus Project began as free, community-based music and instrumental instruction program held after-school. It was designed as part of a strategy to make the case to community stakeholders that quality music education experiences in the public school system would increase both attendance and retention, grades and test scores, reduce behavioral incidents, and result in increased government support for every student in CVESD. In less than ten years, Opus successfully inspired Chula Vista Elementary School District to provide arts education to all of its 30,000 students in all 46 campus sites after over 15 years without it. This partnership propelled SDYS’ community work to national prominence and was highly successful in building new pathways to its Balboa Park programs for hundreds of young people. Opus is considered a national leader in El Sistema practices and is a model for SDYS collaborations including with Price Philanthropies to support music in City Heights schools, the San Marcos school district on music education initiatives, and a variety of charter schools and feeder patterns to enhance or restore music education activities for their students.

In 2019, SDYS began a new phase of growth under the leadership of new President and CEO, Dr. Michael Remson. His focus since his arrival has been to create a stronger sense of strategic and programmatic alignment between conservatory and community programs and to help both of them, through shared programs, evolve to the next level of growth. For the Balboa Park ensemble program, this means adding a “conservatory track”, e.g., a curriculum of enrichment programs that will deepen the experience for students in Balboa Park. For community programs, it means adding the same programs but in a way that fully realizes and replicates the success of the Opus model with other schools and districts. In addition, Dr. Remson is leading the way toward the full development and implementation of programs for children ages 0-7, thereby achieving the goal of becoming a comprehensive “cradle to college” provider.

San Diego Youth Symphony