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Alex Monory, left, helps teach Juel Taiea to play the viola during an after-school San Diego Youth Symphony
and Conservatory music program at Casa de Amistad. Photo by Bianca Kaplanek

By Bianca Kaplanek

SOLANA BEACH — The San Diego Youth Symphony and Conservatory has partnered with Casa de Amistad to bring the first music education program to the Solana Beach education center.

About 20 students in grades four through six are learning to play the violin, viola or cello in the after-school program, which meets twice a week for one-hour sessions.

On Jan. 13, the first day of class, students heard the instruments being played by professionals, then gave them a try themselves and selected the one they wanted to pursue.

Gabriela Sanchez, a 10-year-old student from St. James Academy, said she picked the cello because “it sounds really good.”

“It has a really nice tone to it,” she added.

Ximena Caballero prefers the violin. “It has a high pitch,” the 9-year-old from Del Mar Academy said.

Eleven-year-old Alex Monory said he opted to learn the viola because he liked the sound of it. “It felt like it was right for me,” he said. “I don’t like instruments that sound low.”

The instruments are on loan to the students until the session ends in May.

The class is taught by Rebecca Matayoshi, a professional violist who performs with the San Diego Symphony.

She said she is “super excited” about the opportunity because the students are very motivated.

“They are going above and beyond because they really want to learn,” she said. “I give them homework and they’ve been doing it.”

She said Monory already taught himself how to play “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” on the viola.

During the fourth class Matayoshi had a quiz for the students that required them to label their instruments and answer the correct way to handle and care for them.

“So far it’s going really well,” Matayoshi said. “Right now we’re working on the basics like pizzicato, which teaches them how to pick the strings.”

The students are also learning about music theory and symbols, how to read music and the number of beats in a note.

Matayoshi said she hopes the budding musicians learn at least one song for a performance in March. She is also planning a concert at the end of May, possibly in collaboration with a San Marcos music group.

The venture was started by Lee Sarokin, a retired federal judge who volunteers as a tutor at Casa de Amistad, as a mentoring program for underserved students in coastal North County.

One day he asked Keyli Caribay, who had been a student of his for years, if she was interested in music. She told him she always wanted to play the violin, he said.

“I spoke with some friends at the (San Diego) Symphony and arranged a lesson for her,” Sarokin said. “After one year she tried out for the Youth Symphony and she was admitted. So I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be great to do this for more than one child?’”

The Youth Symphony had been working to bring music education into classrooms. After launching its Community Opus Project in 2010 it partnered with the Chula Vista Elementary School District and began providing after-school music instruction. The effects of the program were so successful that the district reinstated a music program after a 15-year hiatus.

But the Youth Symphony had never partnered with a private nonprofit organization and was reluctant at first to team up with Casa de Amistad.

But Sarokin persisted and raised money for the program. Funding was provided by Sarokin and his wife, the Price Family Foundation, the Mandell Weiss Charitable Trust and the Betty Scalice Foundation at Coastal Community Foundation.

Funding has been secured to maintain the program for 18 months. “But we have big dreams of continuing beyond that,” said Annette Fritzsche, the community program manager for the Youth Symphony.

Based on the enthusiasm of the students, it seems likely they want the classes to continue as well.

“My mom just kind of signed me up for it,” Alex said. “But I was excited because I never played the violin or viola. It’s a really cool experience for me to try them.”

“It’s really fun,” Gabriela said. “I’m learning a lot and they’re really nice.”

The experience is mutual for Matayoshi, who said she decided to teach the classes to challenge herself and add to her skill set.

“Even though I’m teaching them, they’re teaching me, too,” she said.

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San Diego Youth Symphony