SF Symphony’s Adventures in Music celebrates 30 years

by Michael Durand

The Adventures in Music (AIM) program, which connects the San Francisco Symphony with the San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD), started in 1988 with 17 schools. More than 200,000 enlightened students later, AIM is still going strong and celebrating 30 years of music education partnership.


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Jesus Diaz, center, leads third and fourth grade student dancers from Sanchez Elementary School with the sounds of caribbean mambo. Diaz is celebrating with the students on April 24 for the 30th anniversary of the SF Symphony’s Adventures in Music program. Photos: John Oppenheimer.

Today, AIM reaches 23,500 students in all of San Francisco’s 76 public elementary schools. Thanks to $1.6 million in donations every year, AIM provides in-school concerts plus classroom resources and materials (books, CDs, journals and instruments) to help teachers integrate music into their lesson plans, free of charge.

“We provide equitable access to music experiences in the early elementary grades one through five,” said Ron Gallman, the symphony’s director of education and Youth Orchestra. “The AIM program becomes part of their everyday classroom work.”

“Each child receives five consecutive years of music education. A program of this scale and scope that provides equitable access to learning about music is unique to San Francisco. AIM serves every single student in every single school in every neighborhood in the City. That is part of what makes this program distinctive,” Gallman said.

Adventures in Music ensemble musicians perform 750 in-school concerts a year. Since its inception 30 years ago, there have been nearly 25,000 in-school performances. In addition, all AIM students are invited to visit Davies Symphony Hall each year to attend a private concert performance that is designed to incorporate AIM subjects that the students have learned in their classrooms.

“I am really thrilled that the music program customized to the needs of the school district, that folks from the SF Symphony and SFUSD sat down 30 years ago to create, is still running today and continues to be very vibrant,” Gillman said. “That kind of partnership and longevity is unusual, especially for a program of such a scope.”

To celebrate the 30th anniversary, AIM demonstrated one portion of its in-schoo program with an ensemble performance at Sanchez Elementary School on April 24. Invited guests included SF Mayor Mark Farrell and SFUSD Superintendent Dr. Vincent Matthews. The AIM ensemble Caribbean Express performed for third and fourth graders. The curriculum=related performance was designed to demonstrate the role music plays in the cultural identity, history and geography of the area.

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Caribbean Express members (left to right) Derek Smith, steel pan; Colin Douglas, drum set; Jesus Diaz, conga; and, Saul Sierra, electric bass, perform at Sanchez Elementary School during the 30th anniversary of the Adventures in Music program.

The AIM program is active in all of the Richmond and Sunset districts’ 17 public elementary schools. In the Sunset, Diane Lau-Yee is in her third year as principal at Robert Louis Stevenson Elementary School and has worked with the AIM program for two decades.

“I’m very familiar with the AIM program because I taught second grade at Francis Scott Key Elementary School for 17 years. I know the impact,” Lau-Yee said. “For a lot of kids, this is their first experience being able to go to the symphony and, for a lot of kids, this is their inspiration to play an instrument themselves.

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On April 24, SF Mayor Mark Farrell presented a proclamation honoring Sanchez Elementary School and the SF Symphony’s Adventures in Music program to Sako Fisher, president of the SF Symphony’s board of directors. Courtesy photo.

AIM also exposes kids to many different genres.

“Everybody loves music. It’s a universal language. For a lot of kids, English isn’t their first language, but everyone can understand music. The reason I love this program so much is that music touches the heart, touches the soul,” Lau-Yee said.

“The AIM program has done a really good job of making sure they align their curriculum to what our standards are. They have supplied us with some really fun supplementary materials, like books, magazines, maps, harmonicas and kazoos and tied them into our social studies, language arts, science and art curricula. I can’t say enough good things about it,” Lau-Lee said.

The symphony also has a program for students in grades six through 12, which provides students with coaches, instrument repair, concerts and other assistance to the band and orchestra programs for the higher grades.

Cami Okubo, in her sixth year as principal at Argonne Elementary School in the Richmond District, was a symphony fan before her role at the school.

“As a family, having music in our lives was very, very important,” Okubo said. “When I started at Argonne and learned about the amazing connection SFUSD has with the AIM program, I was delighted. Music brings pure joy into our lives.

“AIM is very intentional on how it builds its curriculum and how it connects the learning to other academic areas. One year they had an architecture theme so they were making the analogy about how music comes together much like you would build a building,” Okubo said.

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