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San Diego Youth Symphony: Teaching More Than Music

By Pamela Sosnowski

Everyone knows that music makes you feel good, but for children who play an instrument, the benefits go far beyond listening pleasure. Children who learn music, particularly in a group setting, can gain confidence and self-esteem in all areas of their life - and develop a lifelong love of learning. It's that motivation to help kids succeed in their personal development that drives the San Diego Youth Symphony and Conservatory (SDYSC,) which was formed in 1945 and is now the sixth oldest continuously-operating youth orchestra in the United States. Comprised of over 600 music students, SDYS offers budding musicians the chance to study and perform classical music at an advanced level.

Within SDYS are 10 orchestral and wind ensembles divided into introductory, intermediate, and advanced levels. SDYS students range from elementary school age to age 25. During its 70-year history, the symphony has performed 13 foreign concert tours in 18 countries outside of the U.S. SDYS' faculty is as diverse as its student population and comprised of highly educated conductors who hail from all over the globe.

SDYS is also the resident youth orchestra of San Diego's beautiful, culture-centric Balboa Park, where students often perform outdoor concerts as the sun sets. Students enrolled in the Balboa Park Programs are offered opportunities to study chamber music, perform in soloist competitions, and participate in community partnership opportunities. New students are assessed to determine the ensemble that best matches their ability, while current students have the chance to advance as they demonstrate higher musical skills. The Balboa Park Programs draw students of all levels from the San Diego, Riverside, and Imperial counties.

Says Lucy Coker, Communications Coordinator, "A central tenent of SDYS is that every child deserves a high quality music education." That includes giving a hand to students who need financial help via tuition aid, subsidized lessons, and free concert tickets so that family members can enjoy their performances.

That also means SDYS is committed to community involvement, helping to introduce the love of music to children who may have never touched a musical instrument. To help convince local elementary schools to include music in their curriculums, SDYS launched its Community Opus Project in 2010. Before its introduction, none of the 46 elementary schools in Chula Vista had provided music education to its students for over 15 years. Says Coker, "It was so successful that within only three years, the Chula Vista Elementary School District committed to providing music education to all of its students and with the assistance of SDYS has begun to phase in school day music." The district now aims to have all of its 30,000 elementary school students learning music by 2025.

SDYS recently opened its 70th anniversary season with a Bon Voyage Concert for students leaving for its China Tour. "The performance was our gift to the San Diego community and an exciting send-off," says Coker. The most advanced student musicians as well as several alumni performed in three Chinese cities Bejing, Yantai (SanDiego's sister city) and Shanghai.

So if your child is more of a Johann Sebastian Bach than a Tom Brady, foster their love of music. Whether it takes them across the globe or reaches them right in their classroom, the gift of music education is one worth investing in.

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