By Jeff Clemetson | Editor
[Editor’s note: This interview is the first in a recurring series about local people or organizations that make a difference or positive impact in the community. If you know of a local difference maker that lives or has offices in the Mission Valley area, contact editor Jeff Clemetson at email@example.com.]
Mission Valley resident Kiran Shelat is passionate about music. And although she doesn’t play an instrument herself, she does the next best thing — brings music into the lives of children who don’t have it. Shelat is executive director of Classics4Kids, a nonprofit organization that provides music education for underserved schools.
Born in England, Shelat moved to Louisville, Kentucky with her family when she was 11 years old. After college in Kentucky, she went to work for nonprofits in Cincinnati, including the Red Cross before moving to San Diego a few years ago to be closer to her sister who just had children. After working for Jewish Family Services for a few years, Shelat took a position at Classics4Kids and was named executive director two years ago.
Classics4Kids is celebrating its 25th year this month, as well as the 15th year working with artistic director and conductor Dana Zimbric, which Shelat described as “a huge milestone.”
Mission Valley News recently spoke with Shelat about the work that Classics4Kids does and the difference it makes in the community. For additional information about Classics4Kids, visit classics4kids.org.
What is the mission of Classics4Kids?
We’re a small organization and really the large goal is making music education accessible to all of San Diego’s elementary students and teachers — specifically the low-income students. So, our mission is to inspire children through the experience of music, generate creativity, academic success and cultural understanding.
What kinds of programs do you do?
We have three programs. Our first program is our orchestra concerts at the Balboa Theatre, Downtown. We have close to 15,000 students and teachers come to the theater three times a year. We have a full orchestra onstage and we have different types of themes. We have the orchestra and we have guest artists. Our first concert that is coming up in November is called “Music Takes Flight” and we’re partnering with the San Diego Air & Space Museum. So, we’re going to be talking about things that fly — butterflies, airplanes, superheroes, rockets, spaceships. It’s going to be really fun and interactive.
Then we have “Patterns in Music,” where we’re partnering with a group called The Hutchins Consort, a wonderful group of musicians from Encinitas. The kids will be learning about Carleen Hutchins, who crafted violins … and since it will be March, it fits in with Women’s History Month. We will be talking about patterns and how patterns play into music, patterns all around us and how mathematics and patterns in music combine.
Our final performance will be “Sing Me A Story” and we’re going to be partnering with an opera duo and they’re going to be singing and acting out their world premiere of “The Enchanted Tale: A story of a princess and a fox.” It’s going to be really great for the kids.
For our orchestra concerts, it’s not just kids getting on a bus to go on a field trip, we do more than that. We partner with a group called Advocates for Classical Music and it’s all volunteer-based and they go into the classroom before the concert and talk to the kids about theater etiquette, what the concert is, the composers, the music, how mathematics play into any of this and really get the kids to learn more before they go see the performance. We also do pre- and post-testing with them and provide a lesson plan that’s already created for the teachers.
That’s a lot … and you said you offer more programs?
Our second program is our interactive workshops that align with the California Common Core standards. We have four. Sound of Science is a STEAM-related program (science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics) [which is] very interactive, where kids get to learn about sound waves and frequency. Another workshop is World of Percussion where the kids get to see instruments from all over the world that they’ve never seen before. … Pattern Play is another STEAM-focused, 45-minute presentation where we have a trio teach them patterns and how the instruments work. And then our new workshop is Music for Ukes Trio and we’re partnering with a duo — Sarah Meisel and Craig Chee — they’re ukulele superstars, they travel the world. We just had them for our Aloha Friends performance back in May and the kids just loved it. We’re having them as part of our programming now for the kids to learn about ukuleles. It’s an easier instrument to learn.
And our third program is Heartstrings Outreach to Rady Children’s Hospital and Ronald McDonald House. A lot of these kids, and even their siblings, are going to be at the hospital for quite some time and so we figured let’s bring our musicians in and it’s free to Rady Children’s Hospital and Ronald McDonald House, they’re great partners of ours. We bring musicians, our conductor comes and we pick a theme. We just did a Hawaiian theme — gave some kids leis and had them pluck strings on a violin, get them out of their room to do something educational and fun at the same time.
How has Classics4Kids programs grown over the years?
In all our programs, we serve 30,000 students a year, 75 percent from low-income schools. So, we really target those underserved schools that just don’t have access to music. A lot of schools are cutting or just don’t have any, we try to fill that void to make sure they have some type of music education.
For our concerts, we’ve been at Balboa Theater about nine years and the capacity is the capacity, we can’t change that. But we’ve reached out to more schools and more schools around the county so we’re expanding. We serve schools from Oceanside to Chula Vista, National City, then to Jamul to Pacific Beach. So, our radius of who we serve has grown. We want to serve the San Diego County. We have schools come from Escondido that want to come enjoy our performances because they know how valuable it is.
Our biggest goal is to reach out more to the schools that have never come before. We have repetitive schools which is amazing but we know there are schools out there that have no idea who we are but would be interested in our programming.
—Reach Jeff Clemetson at Jeff@sdcnn.com.