Youth Orchestra Alumni

What Does Joining the San Francisco Symphony Youth Orchestra Do For You? A Lot.

by Rich Smith (August 27, 2017)

Now in its 35th year, the San Francisco Symphony Youth Orchestra has earned its reputation as one of the most prestigious pre-conservatory level training programs in the world by holding its musicians to the highest standard. Students learn discipline, collaboration, and cross-cultural communication skills that they carry wherever they go, as these three graduates of the program will tell you.

Matthew Kan: Physician-Scientist and Author of New Theory on Alzheimer’s

“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 YO 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 said.

Portrait of Matthew Kan with a violinMatthew Kan. Photo by Duke Photography

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 said. “And understanding music makes for a better healer.”

Cathryn Down: Violinist in the San Francisco Symphony

Under tremendous pressure to join her family’s business, Down entered college thinking she would study economics. But she also wanted to play the violin. “After my YO experience I had no doubt: I had to play,” she said. So she pursued her career in music. She has been a member of the SFS violin section since 2001.

Portrait of Cathryn DownCathryn Down. Photo courtesy of Cathryn Down.

In a way, she’s still continuing a family tradition. Down’s mother studied with former SFS concertmaster Naoum Blinder. He encouraged her to join the Orchestra, but she obeyed her parents’ wishes and became a teacher instead. Down said she sees her choice to stay with the violin as picking up where her mother left off.

Nathan Chan: Seattle Symphony Cellist and YouTube Sensation

“My participation in the SFSYO was absolutely formative,” Chan said. “One of my fondest memories was playing the Super Mario Theme Song with fellow YO musician Alex Fager backstage during breaks. We had so much fun doing it that we created my first produced video for my old YouTube channel! The rest is history!!”

Portrait of Nathan Chan with a violinNathan Chan. Photo by Brandon Patoc.

Hear the SFSYO in its first concert of the 35th anniversary season on Sunday, November 19 at 2pm. 

Calling all alumni! Please keep in touch with us—we always love to hear from you and about what you are up to.

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Please include your name along with the name and instrument of the young musician for which you are inquiring in all email and phone messages.  We cannot provide accurate and prompt replies without this information.

Jason Pyszkowski
Associate Director - Youth Orchestra Program