New Hayes Valley Symphony Brings ‘Art For Art’s Sake’ To SF's Homeless, Incarcerated

If you attended this year's Hayes Valley Block Party, you may have caught the inaugural performance of the Hayes Valley Symphony, founded and conducted by Edward Hong, a graduate student at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. The new symphony is designed to give back to the San Francisco community, focusing on musically underserved populations like the homeless and incarcerated.

Hong started his musical career on piano, then took up the violin in grade school.

"My band director told me, 'Why don't you study percussion?'" So he did and eventually landed at Colburn Conservatory of Music, where he explored percussion along with conducting.

From there, Hong worked with companies like Opera Theater Unlimited, studied privately with famed conductor Gerard Schwarz and performed with the percussion ensemble Smoke and Mirrors.

Hong plays the marimba for an intimate audience. 

While in LA, Hong met Vijay Gupta, the youngest violinist to join the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Gupta later invited Hong to join his Street Symphony.

"He asked us to perform in the women's prison," Hong recalls. "It turned out to be one of the most moving experiences in my life thus far. Music is really powerful. When people are denied basics, they look towards art. People were crying."

With his new Hayes Valley Symphony, Hong hopes to bring that experience to San Francisco. "In San Francisco, the incarceration here is a symbol. We don't have much money, but  I would love to go to the prisons around the area."

But he doesn't plan to stop there. Hong says he wants this symphony to be open to the entire community, as well. "My dream is to make music a part of the daily fabric of life. We can bring our ensemble to places and people who need it, like the homeless."

For the budding symphony, composed of current students of the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, the Hayes Valley Block Party was just a start. "If the community accepts us, we plan on expanding. The students benefit and the community benefits." 

One of the performance pieces from the symphony's debut at the block party was Samuel Barber's "Adagio for Strings."

"That piece is poignant for many reasons, it's been used for things like war movies, but for me it's a symbol of human suffering, and we'd like to bring attention to that suffering and bring healing. And music will brighten their day," Hong says.

Hong with members of The Hayes Valley Symphony.

The ensemble's aesthetic take on music is 'art for art's sake,' Hong says. "We take the idea of temporary artwork, and build on the idea that music is fleeting."

A friend of his describes this with the term 'virtuosos of the mundane,' he adds.

"There are things we look at everyday, like fog or lighting on a tree, things we pass by everyday while not noticing. Music is the same," Hong explains. "If you take time to listen deeply it can have a profound emotional effect on people, so I'd like to have an affect on people."

For more information on the new symphony, Hong can be reached at hayesvalleysymphony AT gmail DOT com.

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New hayes valley symphony brings art for art s sake to sf s homeless incarcerated