When their son James was in 8th grade, Jeffrey and Anne King were facing a dilemma. James’s musical talent had maxed out the resources of their hometown, Timpson, Texas, population 1,155. His accommodating band leader would allow the young saxophone player to take home various instruments to experiment and learn more, but even then it was clear that James Reed would soon reach a ceiling in the small town’s program. He needed more road laid out ahead of him.
Like many parents of gifted children, the Kings realized that cultivating their sons talent would mean major change for their family.
So the Kings sent James to San Antonio ahead of the family to start high school at one of Roosevelt High School’s magnet programs, Engineering and Technologies Academy (ETA). Living with his grandmother, he plunged into a world where he had room to grow in every direction. Already well-versed on saxophone and alto-saxophone, James soon ventured into the double reed instruments, oboe and bassoon.
“If it’s got a reed, he’s tried it,” said Anne King.
Double reeds require more controlled airflow, and can be more challenging for young musicians. The oboe proved no great challenge to James, who had a knack for the double reed.
But what the band really needed was a bassoon. In addition to the larger double reed, the bassoons requires an entirely different posture than the smaller wind instruments. And it’s in bass clef. This would be the challenge that the young musician needed. Band Director Patrick Finkbeiner persuaded James to try out the bassoon, and set him up with extra coaching under Jason Van Note. James’ progress continued to skyrocket.
With James on the bassoon, a new door would soon open, leaving no doubt for the King family that the move to San Antonio was the key to their son’s growth as a musician and a student.
And Roosevelt High School, as it turns out, has a friendly neighbor: Rackspace.
Rackspace moved into the neighborhood right next door to Roosevelt High School, in the old Windsor Park Mall now known as “The Castle.” Chairman and Co-founder Graham Weston’s vision for the company extended into the broader community.
“As we grow and become more successful, we’re going to elevate the community,” said Rackspace Community Affairs Director Cara Nichols, summarizing Weston’s philosophy of neighborliness.
In 2009, the entire company made good on that vision in the form of the Rackspace Foundation, of which Nichols is the President. While the public is free to donate, the Rackspace Foundation is 99% funded by voluntary donations taken from employee paychecks. Major beneficiaries of these funds are the seven schools in the Roosevelt High School feeder pattern: Walzem Elementary, Windcrest Elementary, Montgomery Elementary, Camelot Elementary, Krueger Middle School, Ed White Middle School, and Roosevelt.
Rackspace approached the schools and simply asked, “How can we be good partners?”
The answer evolved as a series of enrichment programs. The Rackspace Foundation brings in local organizations to provide the programming that may never find it’s way into the public school budget, giving students as early as elementary school access to music, art, and technology.
The music program enrichment is provided by Youth Orchestras of San Antonio (YOSA). And enrich they do. YOSA has brought intensive training and services to the district. Originally put together to show the diversity of the students’ musical capabilities and interests, YOSA fundraisers highlight talented youth who represent more than 115 schools in Bexar County. These young musicians have sought to promote a different mentality when it comes to the sometimes-boring stigma of an ordinary youth symphony or orchestra.
Magaly Chocano, founder and CEO of local digital design firm Sweb Development, is on YOSA’s board of directors.
“Not many people realize how music effects a child. This program is literally doing what it says it wants to do — it’s changing young people’s lives through music. One hundred percent of YOSA alumni have graduated high school and gone to college, all the way from Princeton to UTSA,” said Chocano, emphasizing the importance of supporter donations. “I’m a believer in these kids, and I’m a believer in YOSA.”
Because a marching band does not include a string section (and double reeds do not march either), most public schools don’t have orchestras. It’s not in the budget to create a whole new music program.
“A strings program would not be possible without assistance,” Nichols said.
One sees the incredible burden of a full orchestral program by looking at the many services provided by YOSA:
- Sectional coaching at Roosevelt HS and Ed White MS to prepare students for auditions for all-regional orchestra; sectional coaching to begin at Krueger Middle School
- After-school mentoring program for 5th grade strings at Walzem ES
- Mentoring and coaching services available for music teachers
- Instrument repair
- Family field trips to YOSA Philharmonic Concerts at the Majestic Theatre, Lila Cockrell Theatre, and Laurie Auditorium—students receive vouchers that can be exchanged for free concert tickets for the student and their immediate family
- Field trip for the Roosevelt HS Varsity Orchestra for a picnic and side-by-side Sunday rehearsal at UTSA with YOSA Symphony
- Last year Rackspace hosted a Spring finale concert at Rackspace World HQ, featuring 2012/13 Rackspace Music Scholars and members of the Roosevelt High School’s Varsity Orchestra
- Rackspace scholar program: private lessons, invitation and scholarship for Summer Symphony Camp, invitation and scholarship to YOSA Orchestras for string players
- YOSA Summer Symphony Camp opportunities for woodwind, brass, and percussion players to strengthen full orchestras at Roosevelt HS,Krueger MS, and Ed White MS.
To ease the strain of funding these programs which are essential to the success of each YOSA student, the program organizes events throughout the year where friends, family, and fans in general can come and offer financial support. For YOSA to be fully functional throughout the year, with all of its development, educational curricula, concerts, they maintain a working budget of $1.2 million.
At the Oct. 5 fundraiser, over $25,000 was raised to pay for their camps, after school program, the UTSA practice facilities, sheet music, and other necessary items vital to YOSA’s — and its students’ — success. At the fundraiser in February, they raised exactly $25,000, and the event in July of 2012 garnered over $11,000.
Among the top donors this year was HEB, represented by Dya Campos, who gave their second consecutive $5,000 donation to the program. In February, the grocery mogul also donated $5,000, which was later matched by Lorenzo Gomez of the 80/20 Foundation. Others like District 8 Councilman Ron Nirenberg, newsman Steve Spriester, world-renowned violinist Tracy Silverman, and San Antonio celebrity Ricky Cavendar have offered their support in favor of YOSA’s students.
The YOSA Summer Symphony Camps opened the biggest door for woodwind James King’s music career. He was recruited for the camp by the former Roosevelt band director, Marshall Smith.
After just 3 months on the bassoon, Smith had seen that the young musician, swiftly advancing on his newest woodwind, would benefit from the rigor of the camps, as well as exposure to San Antonio’s most talented young musicians.
While at the camp, James caught the eye of Troy Peters the music director at YOSA.
“He’s talented and he’s wild and he’s exciting,” Peters said.
Peters grew up as both a classical and rock musician and impresses upon his students the value of being a well-rounded instrumentalist and vocalist.
“With everything we do, whether it’s a classical or contemporary piece, we want the students to have the experience of building a song together, of listening and responding to one another within the piece, and building a dynamic,” Peters said. “I believe in a well-rounded, holistic music education. This is what YOSA does.”
Indeed James’s talents on bassoon are matched with his personal flare. Energetic and social, James has found inspiration among his peers at Roosevelt and YOSA. He also got involved in the ETA world, bringing him into even more of the Rackspace world. An after school club called the Cyber Patriots meets at Rackspace to learn advanced Linux and Windows from professional techies. He gives credit to many of his bandmates for the success he has enjoyed.
But perhaps no one deserves a bigger round of applause than the Reed family, who made the move to San Antonio this summer. Anne Reed hauls a car-full of instruments and equipment to the many performances, competitions, and rehearsals that fill the calendar for high school musicians.
One highlight on their calendar will be James’s debut with the YOSA Symphony’s City Series on Sunday Oct. 27 at the Edgewood Center for the Performing Arts. Sitting in the audience, the Kings are sure to reflect on the whirlwind of change brought on by the last year and a half. From the look of things, they have more horizon ahead of their talented son, who found his way onto the open road of opportunity, accompanied by some very generous neighbors.
After Sunday’s concert, there will be two more opportunities to support this youth music program. The second installment will take place on Nov. 19 at the Lila Cockrell Theatre. For an evening of Christmas spirit and holiday cheer, the YOSA Philharmonic’s “Symphony in a Stocking” is scheduled for Dec. 7 in the heart of San Antonio. To review a full schedule of events, visit YOSA’s events page at www.yosa.org.
Bekah is a native San Antonian. She went away to Los Angeles for undergrad before earning her MSc in Media and Communication from the London School of Economics. She made it back home and now works for Ker and Downey. She is one of the founding members of Read the Change, a web-based philanthropy and frequent contributor to the Rivard Report. You can also find her at her blog, Free Bekah.
Rivard Report contributor Sarah Hedrick contributed to this piece.