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First Person: Making Music Education Accessible For All Children

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July 30, 2018 1:40 p.m.

First Person:


Dalouge Smith, outgoing President and CEO, San Diego Youth Symphony and Conservatory

Related Story: First Person: Making Music Education Accessible For All Children


This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

Our first person series features the stories of Sandy Agins told in their own voices. The San Diego Youth Symphony and conservatory has said goodbye to one of the strongest advocates for arts education in elementary schools. Deludes Smith now the former president and CEO of the youth symphony launched the community Opus project bringing music instruction back to the Chula Vista Elementary School curriculum. After more than 15 years as part of our first person series deludes Smith tells us how music and theatre were an essential part of his upbringing driving his passion to give every child the benefit of arts education.

The notion that the arts can and should be part of everyday life is just a foundational sense of the world as I see it and my ambitions through life have really been to try and find ways to make that happen for other people the way it has happened for me.

I'm deludes Smith and I'm the outgoing president and CEO of San Diego Youth Symphony and conservatory and I've been leading the organization for 13 and a half years. I have the very good fortune of. Living a life that included. The arts included music included theater in the family experience.

My mom started to act when I was in the third grade and I started to be in shows with her and volunteer at theaters. And I was realizing just recently that I didn't go to a professional theater play where I didn't know the people performing until well into my teenage years.

At family holiday events or family birthday events or family gatherings. We often would end the day around the organ with my grandfather playing the organ and the four family cousins aunts and uncles. Visitors singing Irish folk songs. When my grandfather passed away being an Irish family there was a plan for a wake. But my grandfather didn't pass away in time for when the wake was scheduled because I had relatives who had just arrived to Michigan and I had others who were needing to leave that next day or that night even. We went ahead with the Wake. Even though my grandfather was still alive and he actually passed away during the week and so we all returned from my cousin's home my grandparents home and when my grandfather was put into his casket that one of my cousins had built and was loaded into the hearse that was going to take him the the three or four blocks away to the funeral home. We all followed behind singing the folk songs that we had sung around the organ. And so this really was essentially his memorial his funeral he didn't he didn't want any other kind of service. And in the true fashion of my family we had a party and then we sang songs night. So for me being in the arts was always the same as being with my community. Being in my family and I didn't have any conception that music would or could be treated or lived in a different way. For me it was it was lived at the heart of love and Atha at the heart of communal experience.

San Diego Youth Symphony Conservatory was founded in 1945 1948. We moved into Balboa Park and for easily the first 50 years it was a single youth orchestra program and it was bringing together students young adults from the local high schools that all had orchestras as orchestras started to be diminished in American high schools in San Diego High Schools. We began to draw in more students at more levels. So that was not just students who couldn't audition into the very very top orchestra. But now there were kids wanting to come in at an intermediate level or at a beginner level because they didn't have an opportunity at their own school but their parents wanted them to participate in orchestra. That was the nature of the San Diego Symphony when I first arrived.

And there was very limited opportunity for students who are growing up in a community that did not have music in the community and did not have means to participate in music through their own families resources. The evolution that I've helped usher into the Senegalese symphony conservatory is this blending of a continued commitment to excellence with a commitment to access and creating opportunities for young people to have access to that excellence. So our community Opus project in Chula Vista is our first effort.

At fulfilling our vision which is to make music education accessible and affordable for all children. We started with violins and cellos and violas and double bass. Actually we put third graders on double bass. We started that because we had asked the leaders in the community and the principals of the schools what instruments would be the right instruments to start with and the response we got was We have a tradition of string instruments in our community. We believe that there would be a strong response to string instruments. So when we first started this was 2010 we saw that kids were simply behaving better in their classes and as a result there was less disruption in the class. And that meant everybody was learning better in the class. Likewise we saw that parents were volunteering more they suddenly felt like there was a place for them on the campus and the more a parent is involved in their child's education the more that child actually succeeds in education and fact the sort of big big lightbulb for us went off when we did our first presentation to the school board in the spring of 2011 and the assistant superintendent said to us afterward. How did you get all of these Spanish speaking parents to come to a school board meeting and we said well we just had their kids perform. And he said Well that's amazing because we want those parents to be involved and we've never succeeded in drawing them into this level of engagement.

Music in a sense helps people step outside their own community into another community or meet other people that are different from them. And for San Diego Youth Symphony having our presence in Balbo park essentially gives us this universal commonality. It's students from the entire county. It's sometimes students from other counties and students from. Mexico. And.

They're coming there because they all share the same passion for music making. And it doesn't matter.

What the other life circumstances are for the student next to them if they're all pursuing the same purpose. And so for me that's as important now to understand. As. The notion that. Giving people opportunity and giving people access in their own community is important connecting them to other communities is the ultimate finale to that.

Deludes Smith is moving on to become the CEO of the Lewis Prize for Music a new award to honor educators and entrepreneurs around the country who used music to drive social change.

This first person was produced by Emily John Caskey.