The convergence of music education, creating opportunities for San Antonio youth, and philanthropy was on display at the Pearl Stable this week when the leadership and supporters of the Youth Orchestras of San Antonio gathered to honor tech evangelist, downtown developer, and philanthropist Graham Weston.

The word “Orchestras” in YOSA’s name is plural for a reason. Under the guidance and leadership of Music Director Troy Peters and Executive Director Brandon Henson, YOSA now has nine youth orchestras. The organization’s model is simple and clear: “YOSA changes kids’ lives through music.”

That adds up to hundreds of young San Antonians who attend rehearsals and performances each year. It’s heady stuff for anyone to play on the stage of the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts with all seats filled. Imagine being there as a teenager, performing alongside your friends and peers in the same space used by the San Antonio Symphony and other professional performing arts organizations.

Virtually all YOSA musicians will attend and graduate from college and go on to lead meaningful lives, including many students from San Antonio’s inner-city neighborhoods and schools. YOSA serves as their musical path out of poverty.

Peters and Weston, in one sense, lead very different lives, one the artistic director of a nonprofit, the other the billionaire co-founder of Rackspace and Geekdom and real estate developer whose 80/20 Foundation fuels creatives, tech entrepreneurs, and downtown advocates and their work. The Rivard Report is one of many beneficiaries.

Yet Peters and Weston are more alike than people might realize. Both are passionate about education and the opportunity it can create where none otherwise exists. Both are passionate about their work and their community engagement, and self-aware of their roles as servant leaders for all of San Antonio.

And both love music, although Weston said his nine years of piano lessons as a child and one teacher’s assessment that he was born with perfect pitch were not enough to make him fulfill his music teacher mother’s dream of him following in her footsteps.

“My mother is who you should be honoring today,” Weston said from the podium, telling the story of his own interrupted musical journey as a student.

What he learned instead was musical appreciation.

“I learned from my teacher that bassoon in Peter and the Wolf represented the Wolf,” he said. “Secretly, my mother was hoping to unlock my potential through music. I’m afraid I let her down. … My support of YOSA today is driven by that experience.”

Weston’s mother, Caroline, died several months ago at the age of 92. It is highly doubtful that she ever felt her highly accomplished and generous son had let her down. The gift of music, after all, is one Weston is giving the city via his financial support for YOSA and the ensuing generations of student musicians who would rather perform Peter and the Wolf than sit in the audience.

“There’s no doubt that San Antonio is a better place to live, work, and play – everything,” Peters said. “Thank you, Graham Weston.”

“It’s rare for an individual to stand up and actually transform a city, but that is exactly what Graham Weston has done,” Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff told the audience.

Inspiration came from familiar and not-so-familiar sources throughout the program. The musicians and their parents in attendance at the Pearl Stable on Wednesday were treated to the inspiring story of Stanford Thompson, born to a humble yet musically gifted family of 10 in Mississippi. Thompson, an accomplished TED Talk speaker, shared his own story on the Pearl Stable stage.

Stanford Thompson. Credit: Courtesy / Renee Higgins

While others he knew in his low-income surroundings fell by the wayside, Thompson was guided by his parents to pursue his love of the trumpet, which led to early orchestra opportunities and, eventually, to a full-ride scholarship at the prestigious Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia.

Thompson, however, did not take the traditional route toward a teaching job or a position in a symphony orchestra. He instead became the founder and executive director of the El Sistema-inspired program Play On, Philly! that lifts children in his adopted city into new lives through music education.

Thompson and Peters, no surprise, are good friends and longtime colleagues, both making a significant difference in the cities where they now live and work. The work they do, however, requires the financial support of music lovers, from philanthropists like Weston to those with far less wealth but equal passion for music education.

In a world where people are beset by headlines announcing missile launches in North Korea, earthquakes in Mexico, and hurricane-force storms from the Caribbean to Texas, what constitutes news these days often means events like YOSA’s celebration of Graham Weston do not attract much media attention even though cities are built by such leadership, and San Antonio needs nothing as much as it needs improved education outcomes.

The YOSA Philharmonic will perform a King William Concert in the Park on Sunday, Oct. 22, at 5:30 p.m. and a YOSA resident company of the Tobin Center will perform its first Gold Series concert, Star Wars & Other Epic Adventures on Sunday, Nov. 5, at 7 p.m.

Care to “change kids’ lives through music?” Donate here.

Robert Rivard, co-founder of the San Antonio Report who retired in 2022, has been a working journalist for 46 years. He is the host of the bigcitysmalltown podcast.