By Edward Henderson
Every social movement has a soundtrack. A sonic timestamp that can evoke emotions, call people to action and bring groups of people together whose differences drown in waves of melody. Chelsea Allen, Manager of Community Engagement at the San Diego Symphony, understands the power music has to unify. As a student at Yale University, Allen studied the impact music has on political movements. Today, she’s utilizing her knowledge to expose the San Diego Community to what the symphony has to offer, while illuminating the issues the community faces back to the symphony.
This summer, the symphony is pairing talented and diverse acts with their world class orchestra in efforts to expose new audiences to the art form. Latin Jazz legend Sergio Mendes, Motown staples The Commodores and West African singer Angélique Kidjo are among the artists featured in their ‘Bayside Summer Nights’ series.
“If you go through a summer in San Diego without coming to our outdoor site, you’re missing out,” said Allen. “Our site is to me, everything you can only get in San Diego. You have the bay, all the water and the sailing ships, you have downtown sparkling on your right and you have a world class orchestra right in front of you. You can really find your music at the symphony, whatever that means for you. But you also might find out something you never knew you liked.”
The symphony also hosts festivals to create a thematic space and promote dialogue amongst attendees. This year will feature a percussion festival entitled “It’s About Time”. The title speaks to the concept of tempo, but it also alludes to it being time for the doors of the symphony to open up to community members who haven’t been there before.
“That space is going to be a powerful one for people to connect and share what they’re experiencing in their communities but also realize we can connect with the experience of other communities. I think it will be fruitful for addressing the issues that come up in this particular climate.”
Growing up in Linda Vista, Allen never had the symphony on her radar. However, her existing passion for music and community was the perfect pairing for what the symphony was looking for. She met Martha Gilmer, CEO of the symphony, at a concert two years ago. After sharing her interests, it turned out Allen was the perfect match for a position that didn’t exist yet. She went on to intern at the symphony for six months and the managing position was created for her shortly after.
“Finding out that there is an amazing gem of an institution in our city that I didn’t know about was really exciting. I’m the first person to hold this position. We get to experiment and figure out what this could be. This was an outcome of being authentic in my interests and pursuing them while never imagining how they could manifest into a career, but being prepared when they did.”
Part of Allen’s preparation started at Bishop’s High School. She commuted from Linda Vista to La Jolla daily and experienced the stark differences between the two communities.
“I was operating in very different spheres, seeing these disparities, but I really saw where I grew up had a lot. It wasn’t material, but it had a lot that was missing in La Jolla; family connection, since of community and time to spend with people. The symphony has a lot to learn from the community as well.”
One of the attractive aspects of the symphony for a community focused individual like Allen was the fact that the 92 full time musicians that the symphony employs are San Diego based. Creating a pipeline for local talent to make a living doing what they love.
In her final pitch to readers on why they should attend symphony events, Allen believes the support we give artists paired with the symphony will show the organization how valuable catering to our interests can be.
“We vote with our dollar. Buying a ticket to the symphony for an artist tells the symphony that it matters they’re bringing that artist. If we want to see SD be a place where great art exists and the artist we care about are thrilled to perform, buy a ticket. The symphony can offer a great show, but it’s on the part of the community to say that they’ll show up.”
Click here to learn more about the San Diego Symphony’s Bayside Summer Nights.