The planned vacations of hundreds of local families are on hold due to COVID-19-related travel restrictions, but a local program is offering young residents the opportunity to travel to distant lands through music.

Thanks to the Santa Monica Youth Orchestra’s Virtual Spring Break camp, students are exploring the music of regions like Mexico, West Africa and the Near East.

“We’ve never done a spring break camp. We’ve always done a World Music Summer Camp in the month of July,” SMYO Executive Director Shabnam Fasa said Monday as she detailed how students perform a final concert at a well-known venue in Southern California. “This year, we already had 20 kids who’ve signed up for the summer camp but since we don’t know how long this pandemic is going to go, we thought we could hold a spring break one because the kids still need something to do during the week.”

Normally, Fasa and dozens of local youth gather every Sunday at Virginia Avenue Park, where their musical tunes fill the air on a weekly basis. But with the recent closure of Santa Monica parks to prevent the spread of COVID-19, SMYO’s three symphonic ensembles have had to adapt by taking their lessons online.

“Literally, the week after Virginia Avenue Park closed down, we did a training with all of our faculty members and got everybody familiar on Zoom. None of us had ever done it before; I certainly had never done it before,” Fasa said. “Then, we sent a note out to all of our parents saying: ‘Hey, this is something we’re thinking about doing. Orchestra will continue as we always have on Sundays…’ Now we’ve done it for three weeks and we’ve had a wonderful stream of steady enrollment so we thought since it’s working for us — our nuclear group — maybe we should invite the community to come join in.” As always, participation in the various choir, mariachi and Chinese groups are free, according to Fasa, but now children practice their French horns, violas and other instruments from the comfort of their own homes thanks to Zoom.

With help from Derrick Spiva Jr, Gracie McAleer and Olivia Thompson-Bessett, students read music, play for instructors and interact with their peers, which is something Fasa feels is key right now.

“We check in with the kids and ask them how their week has been and if they’ve done anything exciting. I know there’s not a lot that you can do in your living room, but we want to keep their spirits up and see if we can put a smile on their face and, most importantly, give them something to do,” Fasa said.

“It’s not perfect,” but everybody is making the best of the situation, she added while detailing how she hopes developers are working on a platform that would allow music students to play simultaneously.

“And even though all of our mariachi ensemble’s concerts in May got cancelled for every week, we’re pretending that this will all be over very soon and we’ll be going back to our busy, musical lives,” Fasa said. “And we’ll need to know the song for our big concert on June 6th, so we’re all staying focused on urgently learning it because we’ll have to be ready.”

More information on SMYO’s programs can be found online at

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