Pre-College Student Spearheads Benefit Concert for San Francisco Unified School District

Sydney Whipple '20

Sydney Whipple (Pre-College ‘20) shares her love of music with the community—even during quarantine

Back in March, students from SFCM’s Pre-College program were planning Music for Education, a donation-based benefit concert to support music programs at San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD). When the shelter-in-place order passed, they were forced to cancel the in-person show. However, violist and high school senior Sydney Whipple (Pre-College ‘20)—who spearheaded the event—did not give up.

Instead, Whipple took her efforts online and will now hold a livestream benefit concert on Sunday, May 24. In doing this, Whipple has stayed true to her original reason for creating the concert: sharing music with the community and offering other students the same passion for and access to music she’s had at SFCM.

How Pre-College Inspired Whipple to Give Back to the Community


Seniors in SFCM’s pre-college certificate program—an immersive program for kids and teens that trains the next generation of musicians—must complete a scholar, performance, or community engagement project to receive their certificate. Whipple chose the scholar project and had been researching an important music topic to present—TED Talk style—to an audience of faculty, family, and fellow students. Her project (which ended up becoming a virtual presentation), rooted in science, exploreds how music cultivates empathy in listeners and performers.

“I’ve always been really interested in the brain,” says Whipple. “Since I was little, I would make sculptures of the brain and try to map out different things.” In studying the brain as part of her scholar project, Whipple learned that music, or just experiencing arts in general has a great impact on and, as she puts it, “literally gives people life.”

As if extensive research and public speaking weren’t enough for a busy high schooler, Whipple decided she wanted to bring people together to experience first-hand the benefits of music while simultaneously giving back to the community. She suggested a benefit concert to her peers in the Pre-College student council (of which she is president). They agreed and brainstormed ideas, eventually deciding to raise money for music programs at SFUSD. Whipple proactively emailed this idea to Mike Roest, Associate Dean and Executive Director of the Pre-College program, and he encouraged her efforts.

“I’m always excited when students come to me with big ideas of how they can use music to help foster community,” says Roest. “It’s a joy to help students bring their visions to life and so indicative of the leadership skills we seek to cultivate through pre-college.”

When the original concert was cancelled, Whipple and Roest were again in communication trying to determine the best course of action. They decided to move forward with the concert online inspired by the recent success of SFCM’s Tiny Dorm Concerts. Whipple got in touch with her student council peers and began prepping logistics for a virtual benefit concert.

The show will be streamed online May 24 at 5 PM Pacific. Viewers are able to make a donation before, during, or after the concert by visiting this fundraiser page.

Why Music For Education matters to her


For Whipple, the benefit concert is extra special because she is fundraising for programs that offer students the same love of and access to music that she’s had at SFCM.

“We’ve been really fortunate to have this program [at SFCM]...and I wanted to give that opportunity to other people.”— Sydney Whipple (Pre-College ‘20)

“We’ve been really fortunate to have this program [at SFCM]...and I wanted to give that opportunity to other people,” says Whipple, who first joined the program in eighth grade before taking a year off. She returned to study with Dimitri Murrath, chair of String and Piano Chamber, whom she credits for giving her a mantra that now drives everything she does in viola—and life.

“I was in Dimitri’s winter term class on scales and he said this quote: ‘Freedom is the flower that blooms out of the stem of discipline,’” recalls Whipple. “It’s this idea that once you get your technique under control you can truly express yourself.”

The quote is originally from Murrath’s teacher in London, David Takeno, and something he likes to share with all his students.

Of working with Sydney, Murrath says: “Sydney is a true musician.The moment she got the ability to express herself on the viola, her unique voice started resonating on the instrument. She is using her artistry to support and bring positive change to the community around her, and that is something I hope she will continue doing throughout her promising career.”

Participating in the Pre-College program has helped Whipple express herself in ways beyond music.

“I’ve become more social [at SFCM.] When I first started here, I would go eat lunch with my mom in the car, but now I just want to know and talk to everyone,” says Whipple. She continues, “It made me realize how small and close the music world is and I’m so excited to work with these people as my future colleagues.”

In the meantime, Whipple and her current and future colleagues will be performing Bach, Beethoven, and a little Mozart virtually for patrons who share her love of music and giving back to the community

Watch the livestream Music For Education Benefit Concert on May 24.

It’s never too early to start. Learn more about SFCM’s Pre-College Program.