The San Luis Obispo Symphony has received $10,000 from Rabobank to support one of its music education and outreach programs.
The donation caps more than a decade of support from Rabobank, which was Mid-State Bank & Trust until its sale in 2007 to the Dutch banking giant. It will fund the symphony’s “No Ties Allowed” dress rehearsals.
“That’s an opportunity for families and people who can no longer get to the hall in the evening to come see the orchestra on stage [at the Performing Arts Center on the Cal Poly campus] and effectively hear that evening’s program for no charge,” said Jim Black, the nonprofit group’s executive director.
Most of the symphony’s regular players are community volunteers, and its income is split about 50-50 between donations and ticket sales and other forms of self-sustaining revenue. The symphony’s staff music director brings in soloists from around the country to perform with the group, and Black said the free dress rehearsals are instrumental in hooking children, seniors and other people who want to test out the waters of live classical music.
As an organization, the heavily volunteer-driven symphony has created a countywide string education program for children and adults. About a third of the group’s budget goes toward music education and outreach, and the programs have touched about 16,000 county residents. “Interestingly enough, we have a number of members of our adult orchestra who have come up the entire ranks,” Black said. “The driving thing is the opportunity to try it.”
That’s where the symphony comes in. Its Music Van and Petting Zoo of instruments let children play with every instrument in the orchestra, from snare drums to wind instruments to violins and cellos.
Recruiting starts in the fourth grade, the same time when traditional band programs are measuring interest. Students receive after-school lessons to complement the wind-instrument programs funded by most public schools. The
symphony rents and sells instruments and charges some tuition for its “Strings in Schools” programs. But scholarships are available from other community based groups such as the Blakeslee Family Foundation and the Central Coast Funds for Children and County Supervisor Bruce Gibson. Andrea Castillo, the director of music education for the symphony, said the number of students is expected to more than double this year from about 70 to about 150.
She said donor support is extremely helpful as state budget cuts have reduced public-school arts education.
“We always continue to advocate for music education for every child during the school day, every day,” she said. “No matter what we can offer, it will never be enough. We’ve seen some really drastic cuts.”