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

Cradle-to-College Music Education

For roughly 80 years, San Diego Youth Symphony (SDYS) has strived to give young people in San Diego the opportunity to express themselves through music. Founded by Leo Scheer in 1945, the organization is the region’s oldest youth orchestra and sixth oldest ensemble of its kind in the country.

Scheer, a conductor, started the organization as a single orchestra with a handful of talented students. The organization serves students as young as six weeks old and up to 22 years old with various programs, including multiple ensemble programs, community partnerships and an early childhood music curriculum. SDYS provides comprehensive cradle-to-college music education programming and has become a national leader in innovative community outreach, serving thousands of young musicians and their families each year.

“San Diego Youth Symphony is a vessel and a space that kids come and fill with joy and wonder,” said Dr. Michael Remson, President and CEO of SDYS. “What I love is that we have the resources, reach and support from this very generous community to create spaces in so many different ways and spaces so that so many young people can access music in meaningful ways.”

Enriching Students’ Lives with Music

San Diego Youth Symphony

Percussionist Yoyo Wu joined San Diego Youth Symphony a few years ago, during the height of the pandemic – a time where she said everyone had to work extra hard to build a strong sense of community. Since joining, she’s enjoyed every moment.

“What I enjoy the most is the sense of belonging and community I feel,” Wu said. “All the teachers and conductors have been super nice, but always encourage us to push our boundaries and never strive for anything but excellence.”

Research has consistently shown that music education benefits students’ well-being. A recent study from the University of Southern California revealed music may be an activity to help students develop skills and competencies, work out their emotions, and find and understand their identity, while also strengthening connections.

Dr. Remson knows this to be true and has seen its proven success over the years.

“The arts teach us critical thinking. They teach us leadership and how to be a part of something bigger than ourselves,” Dr. Remson said. “There are generations of people from all walks of life in the sciences, arts, and business who credit their experience in music education for their success.”

Music has been a huge part of Wu’s life since she was young, and she expects it to stay a huge part of her life – no matter what her future holds.

“Music has really shaped who I am, and I’ve been able to express myself through its melodies,” she said. “I’m really grateful for the journey it’s taken me on.”

Creating Opportunity

San Diego Youth Symphony

From summer music camps to early childhood and music ensembles, SDYS provides programs for any student – no matter the age or background. The organization provides tuition assistance so that financial need may not be a barrier to a student enriching their life through the sound of music.

As a strong advocate of quality music education in schools, the organization also partners with The Opus Project and together have brought music education to over 20,000 students at 32 schools.

“The goal is to give kids experiences to inspire them to be the best people they can be,” Dr. Remson said. “This is all about creating opportunity and filling in those spaces where programs are needed to give opportunities to kids that might not otherwise have them.”

San Diego Youth Symphony is an inaugural grant recipient of the Jay Kahn Endowment Fund, but is also a partner of the San Diego Foundation Expanded Learning initiatives, including Level Up SD.

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 Youth Symphony. Its mission is to instill excellence in musical achievement and personal growth through rigorous and inspiring music education experiences.

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.