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Many of us still remember our days in the elementary education system, when lessons in the arts— including music—were part of every primary school’s curriculum. Some kids really liked it; some others weren’t interested—but all had the opportunity to see for themselves. But politics and budget restraints changed that, and now most schools take little or no responsibility for arts education. That’s truly unfortunate, because an amazing amount of talent can be brought to light with just a little encouragement and exposure to music’s joys.

Ten years ago, San Diego Youth Symphony and Conservatory began partnering with the Chula Vista Elementary School District to bring music education back to the school day for all students in the district’s 46 schools. Many students later matriculate to the Conservatory programs.

Since 1945, SDYS has given thousands of young musicians the opportunity to study and perform classical music at a highly advanced level. Originally, like most youth symphonies, participation was merit-based—only students who could meet required performance standards were accepted. But today, there’s a more inclusive philosophy; SDYS has ensembles at every level, from beginners at age 7 to pre-professionals up to 25. Their ChIMES program (Childhood Introduction to Music Education with Smiles) builds healthy attachments between toddlers (birth to age 5) and their caregivers through hands-on playing with instruments, singing, and percussion.

No student who wants to participate is turned away. There’s a very reasonable tuition for SDYS’ Conservatory programs, but for families that can’t afford it, financial aid is available in the form of music scholarships. This means that any child can participate in SDYS’ programs.

Funding for these scholarships comes from private donations, and from the organization’s annual “Encore!” gala. Perla Browlie chaired the 2019 fundraiser last weekend at the Casa del Prado in Balboa Park—where many of SDYS’ programs take place. Martin Cooper and Arlene Harris were honorary chairs, and Al and Armi Williams were presented with the Conductor’s Award for their years of dedicated service and support.

The event started with wines, champagne, hors d’ oeuvres, and refreshing sangria in the building’s courtyard. Guests moved indoors for spirited performances by SDYS’ Opus Festejo Strings and the more advanced Chamber Orchestra—both amazingly proficient ensembles.

Afterward, the Opus Esperanza and Alegria Percussion Parade played, leading the 120 guests to dinner in a big white tent nearby. There, Catering Solutions served an excellent three-course dinner featuring braised short ribs. President/CEO Dr. Michael Remson illustrated SDYS’ story through short videos and stellar student performances. Event proceeds for music scholarships topped $120,000, and the evening closed with a spot-on Tchaikovsky performance by the 26-member Chamber Strings ensemble.


San Diego Youth Symphony