[Yardi corporate blog] Behind the Music Santa Barbara Youth Symphony
By Erica Rascón
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Three years ago, Yardi caught up with Amy Williams, Director of Education and Community Engagement at Santa Barbara Youth Symphony. The program has grown a lot since then, reaching even more of the city’s youth with interdisciplinary art and the fun of a kid-centered community.
“We’ve seen a huge increase in participation,” says Williams. “Three years ago, we reached 4,500 students and this year we’re anticipating 5,300. Concerts for Young People has 2,800 students now. That filled up in record time. We’re offering the same things but we’re seeing a huge shift of kids wanting to play great music and make new friends.”
The friendships and sense of community draw most students through the doors, and keep them coming back year after year.
Williams recalls one particularly heartwarming encounter: “This year, one of my high school students was excited, noisily coming into rehearsal. I said, ‘You’re very excited to be here.’ And he says, ‘Well, Amy, I belong here.’ I feel that’s the heart of it. We are where students feel they belong. The demographic in Santa Barbara has all sorts of languages, all sorts of backgrounds, but when they walk into classes and workshops they feel like they belong, by teachers and their peers. I feel very strongly about that and I’m very proud of the program.”
While the kids are playing music and building their community, they are also preparing for their academic and professional futures.
The benefits of music on adolescents have been well document in scholarly journals for decades. Nothing has changed, and that’s a good thing. “Music students develop 21st century skill sets that employers are looking for: teamwork, creative thinking, making connections between subject areas, and critical thinking,” says Williams.
The skill sets do not develop overnight. Students that stay with the program longer reap the greatest advantages. Fortunately, many students are doing just that. Seeing students stick with the program and transition from exposure events, to junior groups, and finally to the Youth Symphony Orchestra brings Williams the greatest joy.
“We’re tracking students from the first experience with the Music Van up to our hands-on program and then to the Youth Symphony. I think last year we had eight students move from Junior Orchestra to Youth Symphony. It’s just going to grow!”
On average, it takes four or five year with the program before students develop the skills needed for the Youth Symphony. While that is an impressive commitment for adults, it’s even more of a milestone in kid years. It’s basically a lifetime.
Williams doesn’t help kids achieve greatness on her own. She relies on the support of fellow staff members and dedicated volunteers. The organization is hosting a call for volunteers, particularly for summer events.
May 22, 2016 from 12pm-4pm marks the annual Hands On music festival. “We have a fantastic event on the steps of the Lobero Theatre that will end the Youth Symphony season,” explains Williams. “All of our programs will be out and there will be lots of hands-on music stuff. It’s a festival, fundraiser, and fun community activity.” After Hands On, guest are invited to the Youth Symphony concert finale.