This blog is part of a series of posts highlighting the 10 inaugural grantees of the Jay Kahn Endowment Fund.

Imagine the excitement buzzing in the air as you and your classmates eagerly load onto a school bus, with a promise of a break from textbooks and routine. Field trips bring a collective sense of joy – not your ordinary school day. As students fill the theater, you trade your math notes for musical ones thanks to the performance you’ll soon witness.

This is the type of excitement Classics 4 Kids, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, hopes kids experience at each one of their concerts.

“Music is, of course, called the universal language,” said Dana Zimbric, Classics 4 Kids’ Artistic Director. “It’s the way that we experience the world. Music inspires kids. It lights up their brains in different places and helps them be better learners, and a lot of our concerts incorporate things like science and math.”

Beyond the thrill of escaping the classroom, field trips are unique venues for education. After all, music is filled with valuable skills and important lessons to be learned.

Orchestrating Success

Classics 4 Kids

Classics 4 Kids was founded in 1994 to address a significant gap in music education. What started as 600 students attending a piano recital has now turned into several schools and districts seeking access to high-quality classical music concerts.

Aside from orchestra concerts, Classics 4 Kids also hosts assembly programs in schools and also hosts residency programs, like one centered on ukeleles. The goal for all of these programs is to expose as many kids to music as possible, especially students who may be socioeconomically disadvantaged and lack access to music.

“We just really want to expose children to music and let them understand the power of this beautiful art form and how it can inspire them and help them in their learning,” said Zimbric.

Its programs have reached more than 40,000 students, teachers and families with their mission of inspiring children through music, generating creativity, academic success and cultural understanding.

Zimbric finds this work especially important and fulfilling, especially when kids can get involved in the concert itself.

“It is just amazing when you get that feedback from kids and it’s immediate,” she said. “We know when they’re having fun and having a great time. It makes it all worth it.”

The Gift of Expansion and Music for All

Classics 4 Kids

Classics 4 Kids got word they’d be receiving a $150,000 grant from the Jay Kahn Endowment Fund last February, and immediately knew they’d be able to make some of their long-term dreams come true – like expanding their performances into La Mesa’s Joan B. Kroc Theatre.

“It was one of the biggest surprises we’ve ever gotten,” Zimbric said. “For this concert set (at the Kroc), we have over 80 percent of the students are low-income students. We’re able to give them scholarships, go out into the community and make it easier for their schools to come to our concerts.”

Classics 4 Kids has a goal to continue expanding and reaching more economically disadvantaged communities, using music to teach and inspire children.

“When students come and they see concerts and they connect to the music – they maybe see someone that looks like them on stage, or they hear music that’s representative of their home culture,” Zimbric said. “We think that all those things work together and help really build well-rounded brains and children. Hopefully, it will inspire them to be better learners and to ultimately be better citizens of our world.”

About the Jay Kahn Endowment Fund

In February 2023, Jay Kahn, a local entrepreneur and music lover, donated an unrestricted $100 million cash gift to San Diego Foundation – the largest-ever gift of its kind to a local nonprofit. Thanks to his generosity, SDF created the Jay Kahn Endowment Fund, which will perpetually benefit San Diego.

The first grants from Kahn’s gift, which is the third-largest gift of its kind to a U.S. community foundation, include $150,000 unrestricted grants to 10 San Diego-based music education nonprofits to advance their work in the community. The grants intend to grow music appreciation in San Diego in memory of Kahn.

One of the inaugural Jay Kahn Endowment Fund grantees is Classics 4 Kids. Its mission is to inspire children through music, generate creativity, academic success and cultural understanding.

Jay Kahn was born on February 23, 1932, in Benton Harbor, Michigan, to a recently immigrated German father and his second-generation wife. Jay left Benton Harbor just out of high school after receiving a full scholarship to study clarinet at the University of Texas, Denton. Though he didn’t finish the program, classical music, specifically chamber music for winds, remained a lifelong passion of Jay’s. He played in several ensembles around San Diego, including orchestras at UC San Diego and the University of San Diego.

Learn how you can give with San Diego Foundation.