Bay Area's Young Musicians Program leads kids to a better life on the wings of music 

In the Bay Area’s low-income areas, there’s only one organization that guides financially deprived teenagers toward college without exception. It’s done with music and the passionate participation of such world-famous artists as mezzo-soprano Frederica von Stade.

The Young Musicians Program, headed by Daisy Newman, only admits students whose family income is low enough to qualify for financial assistance, and yet for 22 consecutive years, 100 percent of the YMP graduating classes went to college.

Coming from Oakland, Napa, San Mateo, Union City and other locations, there are 106 students in the program, 13 graduating this summer.

They are headed not just to any college, but some of the best schools and conservatories in the country, including Harvard University.

“I have students currently at Juilliard, Manhattan, Oberlin, San Francisco Conservatory of Music and Cleveland Institute,” YMP faculty member James Meredith says.

The program, he says, “has changed many lives. A lot of these kids are the first in their families to go to college, and many have family stories that would break your heart.”

Similar to the now globally valued El Sistema, which lifted thousands of children from Venezuelan slums to the ranks of professional orchestras (and sent Gustavo Dudamel all the way to the podium of the Los Angeles Philharmonic), YMP provides opportunities to those most in need.

The mission of YMP, started as a UC Berkeley outreach program in 1968, is to identify musically gifted students who cannot afford the specialized training they must have, and to provide them with comprehensive music education, academic reinforcement and personal guidance on a full-scholarship basis, including even the federally supported lunch program.

The heart of the program is the seven-week intensive summer workshop, running through Aug. 14 this year. The public is invited to a free open house and several student concerts, which include Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5, opera arias and duets and the Schoenberg String Quartet.

Last week, famed accompanist and conductor Martin Katz gave a master class in Berkeley at von Stade’s invitation, and he was effusive in his praise.

“Great things are being accomplished here daily — life-changing things,” Katz says. “Kids who might have never had any access to the whole world of art, music, language, poetry, drama or dance are being immersed in it. No one is cutting them any slack; they are being held to the highest of standards, and they are responding big-time!”

Calling himself a “rather demanding teacher,” Katz says he was “totally blown away by wonderful, committed and enthusiastic performances. What an excellent investment in our future
this program is!”


Young Musicians Program

Open House
Morrison Hall, UC Berkeley
When: 9 a.m. to noon July 29
Admission: Free
Contact: (510) 642-2686,

Public concerts
Hertz Hall, UC Berkeley
When: 3 p.m. Aug. 7 and 14; 7:30 p.m. Aug. 10 and 12
Admission: Free
Contact: (510) 642-2686,

About The Author

Janos Gereben

Janos Gereben

Janos Gereben is a writer and columnist for SF Classical Voice; he has worked as writer and editor with the NY Herald-Tribune, TIME Inc., UPI, Honolulu Star-Bulletin, San Jose Mercury News, Post Newspaper Group, and wrote documentation for various technology companies.
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