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Making Music and Memories

February 20, 2018

Collage of children

The SFS celebrates the joy of music with stories from some of the students who have been a part of and inspired by our music education programs. 

Adventures in Music (AIM)

The San Francisco Symphony’s Adventures in Music (AIM) program celebrates a monumental 30th anniversary this season. Over the decades, this innovative music education program has touched the lives of hundreds of thousands of schoolchildren. Designed in partnership with the San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD), AIM ensures that every child in grades 1 through 5 in every San Francisco public elementary school receives equitable access to music education. Presented free of charge to schools, AIM incorporates in-school ensemble performances, tailored classroom materials and resources, professional development for teachers, and culminates in students attending a private, free concert by the San Francisco Symphony at Davies Symphony Hall. The SFS brings music into classrooms, and students into the symphony hall, which not only enriches students’ arts curriculum but nurtures lifelong learning and engagement in all disciplines.

A child conducts a violinist during an AIM concert

Bay Area resident, Pacifica high school science teacher, and field conductor Jared Steele shares his AIM story:

Dear San Francisco Symphony,

I thought I would tell you how your music program has influenced my life. Seventeen years ago, when I was in the first grade at Harvey Milk Elementary School, I went to my first Adventures in Music (AIM) concert. At that age I had no idea that I wanted to play an instrument, but I knew I loved the music and the San Francisco Symphony concerts. When I entered the fourth grade, I was given the chance to play an instrument. Since I thought the clarinet would be the easiest instrument to learn how to play, I choose it and have not stopped playing since! After graduating fifth grade, the SFUSD middle school I attended was lucky enough to have a band program—and even better for me, they had a marching band. I played clarinet throughout my three years in middle school, and I also began conducting in the seventh grade. I went on to join my high school marching band where I continued to play clarinet in marching band, field shows, and concert band. Starting my sophomore year, I became the drum major of my marching band. Since then, I have been conducting throughout northern and southern California as a field conductor at various competitions.

If it weren’t for that first AIM concert, I most likely would have never had the opportunity to play clarinet, or even to conduct. When I applied to colleges, I chose schools based on their band programs. My goal was to continue my career in marching band—both as a clarinetist and as a drum major. After college, my options are unlimited. For sure though, I know one day I want to become a high school band director, and maybe one day a conductor of musicals. I always thought they had the coolest jobs in the entire world, being able to control the music throughout the musical.

I was a music major in college before turning to science. I’m a high school science teacher now, and am actively involved with my school’s music program. Just as I dreamed, I continue to be a marching band instructor throughout California during the summer months.

Thank you,
Jared Steele

P.S. Please tell Michael Tilson Thomas that I truly enjoy the way he conducts!

San Francisco Symphony Youth Orchestra (SFSYO)

Recognized as one of the finest youth orchestras in the world, the San Francisco Symphony Youth Orchestra (SFSYO) celebrates its 35th anniversary this season. The SFSYO provides pre-professional orchestral training to instrumentalists ages 12 to 21 from throughout the Greater Bay Area. The young musicians rehearse and perform at Davies Symphony Hall under the direction of Wattis Foundation Music Director Christian Reif, and receive weekly coaching by SFS musicians. Since its inception, the SFSYO has toured internationally and performed in some of the worlds greatest concert halls, released ten albums, and seen its distinguished alumni grow up to hold leading positions in tech and engineering, as doctors and nurses, teachers and coaches, and as musicians in leading orchestras around the world.

SFSYO alum Matthew Kan, a physician-scientist and author of new theory on Alzheimer’s, reflects on his experiences as a member of the Youth Orchestra and how it influenced his career and life:

Matthew Kan

One of my lasting memories is being treated like a professional from the first day,” Kan said of the Youth Orchestra. “That professionalism you bring with you forever.” The orchestra’s strict rehearsal schedule and Kan’s exposure to travel as a young violinist prepared him for college at Harvard and Duke, but it was his Youth Orchestra coach’s commitment to teaching children that inspired his decision to become a pediatrician.

“You don’t really understand that commitment when you’re a kid, but as an adult you start to realize that that’s special,” he says.

Kan ultimately became a research physician because he thought he could be a doctor who plays music at a high level, but not a musician who does research or sees patients. He sees many important, direct connections between the two fields. “Understanding the human experience is essential to communicating as a musician,” he says. “And understanding music makes me a better healer.”

A Music and Mentors moment

Music and Mentors

The SFS Music and Mentors program serves every instrumental music program in San Francisco’s public middle and high schools by offering coaching, resources, and concert tickets, free of charge, to support music teachers and inspire students. The SFS believes that experiencing music firsthand helps transform young players into better musicians and lifelong music enthusiasts.

Jeannie Psomas

Jeannie Psomas, Music and Mentors teaching artist, principal clarinet of the Reno Chamber Orchestra, and second clarinetist of the Fresno Philharmonic, shares the lifelong impact of the SFS music education programs:

It must have been in third or fourth grade when a violinist from the San Francisco Symphony’s AIM program came to our classroom and asked for a volunteer to pick out which etude she would perform for us. “ME, ME!!” My hand shot up, and the violinist politely indulged my enthusiasm as I thumbed through her etude book and finally settled on one.  At the time I couldn't read music, but I had chosen one with what looked like thousands of tiny black lines and markings. She asked, “Why did you pick this one?” I answered, “Because it looks so complicated!”

Classical music and the love we have for it is absolutely complicated. As a kid, I was always so excited to go on the AIM field trips to Davies Symphony Hall. I still vividly remember sitting in the balcony watching a semi-staged production of Carmen as a fifth grader in 1999. I used to watch SFS harpist Doug Rioth, whose playing seemed mythical to me, as well as SFS Associate Concertmaster Nadya Tichman, with her curly hair and fiesty violin solos.

Years later, while I was in high school at the Ruth Asawa School of the Arts, I joined the SFS Youth Orchestra. There I worked one-on-one with many of these “hero” SFS musicians. The two years I spent playing clarinet with this group became positively formative. I could probably write endlessly on the incredible impact SFSYO had on my development, but suffice it to say, I decided to pursue a career in music.

In 2010 I returned to San Francisco after having earned my bachelors of music at the Eastman School of Music and decided to study, again, with my long-time teacher, SFS Associate Principal Clarinet Luis Baez. While in grad school I interned with the SFS Public Relations team, and learned what it was like to run an orchestra from the inside out. Then in 2012 one of my life-long dreams came true: I was asked to play a concert with the SFS as a substitute musician. That same year I took a job with the SFS education department—one that entails me to go to my old elementary, middle, and high schools to teach and perform for students who are just like I was.

Teaching in the public schools for the SFS Music and Mentors program has been my absolute privilege and pleasure. Just this year I identified a particularly talented student who was in need of resources, and was able to work with the SFS education department to provide him with the private lessons he could never have afforded on his own. The student, a first-generation immigrant whose parents do not speak English, is now able to have private clarinet lessons and develop his talent to its full potential at no cost to his family. He is progressing beautifully, and it is my joy to watch him flourish under the program.  

The impact the San Francisco Symphony's education department has had on me is mammoth... one might even say, it's been quite complicated! It inspired me as a youngster, gave me access to incredible teachers and performance opportunities as a teenager, and employs me as an adult! And of course, it has allowed me to give back to the San Francisco community that I value so dearly. I can say with absolute certainly that without the Symphony’s music education programs, my life trajectory would be utterly unrecognizable and not half as rewarding! I can never say thank you enough to this organization but I will try to here: Thank you so much, San Francisco Symphony, for everything you've done for the Bay Area musical community and for personally impacting me so deeply. 

Yours in perpetuity,
Jeannie Psomas

To learn more about the Symphony’s education programs, visit