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

On a bright, sunny day at The Rady Shell in downtown San Diego, Hernan Constantino steps on stage to rehearse with the rest of his San Diego Symphony family. With families and school-aged children gathered on the lawn, he’s aware that the notes he plays are not just sounds, but a portal to emotions and a shared learning experience to be had.

“For the kids, the one thing they learn from seeing and watching us is how dedicated we are in our craft,” he says. “For them to see what happens, how committed we are, what we do to put things together – those are the ingredients to be successful.”

Notes of Knowledge

For more than 100 years, the San Diego Symphony has committed to community and the development of a passion for the arts by “elevating human potential by providing a shared sense of pride and belonging to something bigger than themselves.

“As an audience member listening to this orchestra, what we really hope is that it can transport you to another place, or another way of thinking, or another emotional level,” says Martha Gilmer, San Diego Symphony Executive Director.

Among their most important audience members? Youth.

Young children at a San Diego Symphony concert

To achieve this, the San Diego Symphony often hosts open rehearsals, picnics in the park and family nights to easily access live music. For some students and children, this is their first exposure to a live orchestra. These rehearsals, coupled with several other San Diego Symphony programs and events, promote music education in the community.

“These performances are so critical to beginning a lifelong journey with music,” says Laura Reynolds, the Vice President of Impact and Innovation at San Diego Symphony. “That moment where they hear the orchestra and the sound of the orchestra, it’s truly transformative. A number of musicians talk about that being the spark for them to begin learning an instrument,” Reynolds says. “Music education is critical.”

Expanding Curriculum

Outside of public performances, the San Diego Symphony also helps develop music curricula for teachers to use in the classroom – ranging from elementary to university levels. The gift to the San Diego Symphony from the Jay Kahn Endowment Fund in February 2023 allowed them to expand these curricula further and launch a new program, “Sound and Silence,” for grades three through five.

San Diego Symphony playing instruments

Through this program, the San Diego Symphony trains teachers, visits local schools and performs for classes or assemblies.

“Sound and Silence” also consists of an eight- to ten-week-long curriculum on music fundamentals and prepares students to sing alongside the orchestra at an April performance at The Rady Shell. More than 7,000 students are registered, a statistic that thrills Reynolds.

“Music is one of those incredible [things] that allows us to learn a lot about listening to each other, a lot about how to work together as a team, and how to express ourselves in many different ways,” Reynolds says. “It’s really about giving every child the opportunity to be a thriving, vibrant individual who can express themselves and participate in this 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 San Diego Symphony. Its mission is to change lives through music, and seeks to elevate human potential by providing a shared sense of pride and belonging to something bigger than any of us can achieve alone.

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 University of California San Diego and the University of San Diego.

Learn how you can give with San Diego Foundation.