Merced Symphony performs for students

cpride@losbanos enterprise.comFebruary 7, 2014 

Fourth-graders at the Los Banos Unified School District were introduced to classical music last week through performances by the Merced Symphony and monetary contributions by educators and private citizens.

On Jan. 23, the Merced Symphony played two 45-minute sets at Pacheco High School for the visiting youngsters.

“Exposure to classical music is a foundation,” Superintendent Steve Tietjen said. “It adds to their education. Students exposed to music in school have higher graduation rates.”

Merced Symphony, which was founded in 1958, has performed for schools in Merced for years. A number of years ago the group also performed regularly in Los Banos, but finances haven’t allowed the concerts to happen in more recent times.

Tietjen said $2,000 contributions from the district and the Merced County Office of Education Foundation combined with private citizens donating $3,000 allowed last week’s performances to take place.

Mayor Mike Villalta, who sits on the MCOE Foundation board of directors, was the person who convinced the agency to donate the funds.

“Everyone needs to be exposed to the fine arts. This is good for kids,” Villalta said.

If the funds can be raised, the Merced Symphony will play in Los Banos next year and students from Dos Palos and Gustine may be invited, Villalta said.

Judy Smith, president of the Merced Symphony Association, said the performance was so expensive because members of the symphony live outside of Merced County.

“The Merced Symphony has some members in Sacramento and San Francisco. Unless you’re the San Francisco Symphony, Philharmonic or Boston Pops, you have to be in several orchestras to make a living,” Smith said.

Dong Yoon Lee, a 13-year-old from Cruickshank Middle School in Merced and country and western singer Terry Brown were also part of the event.

Los Banos native Shawn George, who sits on the Merced Symphony Association board of directors, said it is important to introduce classical music to children.

“I think it is a fantastic motivational factor,” he said.

As part of the association, George and fellow board member Harry Jacobs are working toward launching the Merced Area Youth Orchestra, which will hire instructors to work with school districts to teach children how to play classical instruments. The program will also provide the instruments for students. George said $5,000 has been raised for the program and $15,000 to $20,000 more is needed.

“The Westside should have as much opportunity as the (Highway) 99 corridor to see educational enrichment programs like this,” Tietjen said.

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