Put a miniature cello in a troublemaker’s hands and she may wind up in the principal’s office less often. A kid struggling with concentration might find himself scoring higher on tests after studying the tuba.

San Diego Youth Symphony chief Dalouge Smith has been hearing anecdotes like that from principals and parents in the Chula Vista schools housing his organization’s Community Opus Project. The program is based on a much-admired program in Venezuela called El Sistema, where music lessons are given to low-income kids with hopes of pulling them out of poverty and transforming communities.

But Smith and local scientists from UC San Diego and the Neurosciences Institute in La Jolla want to go beyond anecdotes. They’re taking 15 kids starting those after-school music lessons and sliding them into brain scanners, planning to track during the next five years what physically happens to their brains as they advance in music. They’ll pair the brain scans with cognitive and concentration testing and measure changes there, too. They’re comparing them to kids not in the music lessons, and kids studying karate, too.

As Smith told me for our in-depth story this week, he’s still a believer in the anecdotes that music is life-changing. But the study’s potential to bolster that with empirical data fascinates him.

“All of these things are still true, as they’ve always been true as long as people have been playing music — for millennia,” he said. “It is essentially asking the question: Is there more than we already know?”



In the comments, reader Bob Dorn added a recommendation for the book “This Is Your Brain on Music,” and suggested reading it will “make even a neocon want to take up the clarinet, if not fund the arts in public schools.”

You’re reading the Arts Report, Voice of San Diego’s weekly compilation of the region’s arts and culture news.

Happening Here:

• They were one of the first ones to believe in the vision for a new arts district in a once-dilapidated military complex, but now they’re leaving it. An early tenant in the former Naval Training Center’s arts and culture district in Point Loma is planning to leave for a larger, cheaper home in National City’s old library. Allie Daugherty reported the story for us about ARTS: A Reason To Survive. The plan goes in front of the City Council in National City today for final approval.



• Local arts and culture leaders last week asked San Diego’s City Council to increase the city’s funding to arts organizations in future budget sessions. The funding comes from hotel-room taxes, revenue that the mayor projects will increase next year. Though members of the City Council appeared supportive of the request during the meeting, there was no vote. The mayor’s Chief Operating Officer, Jay Goldstone, said the projected increased revenue is already earmarked for other expenses, but if even more comes in, the mayor’s office wouldn’t object to increasing arts funding. (City News Service via KPBS)

• San Diego Dance Theater is gearing up for its intergenerational dance performance this weekend and is hosting blog posts from people involved in the production, like an exuberant, 84-year-old Kay O’Neil:

“Even though … I am the oldest in the class, and certainly the most ‘challenged’ in all ways, I am dancing! I love it! I try to never miss a class. The other senior dancers are a collection of marvelous human beings. The mood is always ‘up’! Moving makes me feel alive. So look out, world! I am not looking back!”

• An accomplished 16-year-old actor is the engine of a new theater company, “Living Light Theatre,” which opened its production of “Master Harold and the Boys” last weekend at the Lyceum Theatre downtown. Actor Austyn Meyers is teaming up with Shaun T. Evans of the California Youth Conservancy for the new company, and in a behind-the-scenes video, Evans admits working with Meyers is less teacher-to-student, despite Evans’ age, and more peer-to-peer. (U-T San Diego)

• The Bach Collegium San Diego ensemble recently traveled to Bolivia for a festival of early music. The group is known for interpreting centuries-old musical pieces in the style that might’ve existed at the time the composer wrote them. They posted some photographs online.

• A new project, “Artbound,” from L.A.’s public television station, KCET, attempts to highlight and connect audiences with art and culture happening in Southern California. San Diego is among 11 counties featured. Since the site’s launch last week, several new articles have popped up including features on San Diego’s house concert scene and a folk singer from Valley Center.

Kinsee Morlan, who recently left her post as arts editor for CityBeat, wrote about an artist who attempts to capture in photographs the absurdity and abandonment in foreclosure-embattled McMansion communities here. You can vote for the stories you think KCET should make short documentary videos about.

San Diego Roots:

• As San Diego grew by 100,000 people between the early 1960s and ’70s, the city exploded with fashionable modernist architecture. Student of San Diego modernism Keith York highlights his picks for sight-seeing around town. (CityBeat)

• Here’s a cool exchange from local art teacher Donald Masse’s blog: Masse models his lessons at Zamorano Fine Arts Academy in southeastern San Diego after living artists and then usually sends the artists the work his students make. He recently taught his students to make robot posters in the style of artist Zac Mallett, and Mallett responds in Masse’s blog: “To see such thoughtful and aware pieces from kids that age is extraordinary, and to have played a small role is their artistic development is extremely humbling.”

Masse said his job is one of 21 art teacher positions San Diego Unified is planning to cut.

• The Charlie Chaplin-inspired musical that originated a couple of years ago at the La Jolla Playhouse will open on Broadway in August. (New York Times)

• A costume designer who grew up in North County and designed the costumes for the Playhouse-originated “Peter and the Starcatchers” was nominated for a Tony award for her work. (NBC San Diego)

• Commercialization and consumerism are big themes in Encinitas-based artist Jean Lowe’s work. A show of her paintings and sculptures is up at Quint Contemporary Art, a La Jolla gallery, right now. Much of her work juxtaposes ordinary objects in big-box store displays with settings like cathedral ceilings. She tells the U-T: “I’ve been thinking about how we use stuff to clarify who we are, to express our hopes and desires,” Lowe said. “How we can buy something and have it transform us somehow. If I could just buy that great dress…”

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Kelly Bennett is the arts editor for VOSD. You can reach her directly at kelly.bennett@voiceofsandiego.org or 619.325.0531. Or you can keep up with her on Twitter @kellyrbennett or on Facebook.

Kelly Bennett is a former staff writer for Voice of San Diego.

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