Songs4Smiles: La Jolla High student’s quartet plays to ‘spread smiles through music’
The young foursome will perform a Disney-themed concert Saturday, April 8, at the La Jolla/Riford Library to benefit a nonprofit that aids research of kidney cancers in children.
A La Jolla High School junior has started a quartet of like-minded young musicians to raise spirits and money to benefit ill children.
“Our quartet’s mission is to spread smiles through music,” Shannon Cao said of her group, Songs4Smiles.
For the record:
10:25 a.m. March 9, 2023This article was updated to correct Jasmine Chan’s grade level.
The foursome will perform a Disney-themed concert at 2 p.m. Saturday, April 8, at the La Jolla/Riford Library, 7555 Draper Ave.
A $10 donation is suggested, with all proceeds going to the Joey’s Wings Foundation, a nonprofit that works to fund research of kidney cancers affecting children and young adults and to support the patients’ families.
Shannon, who plays viola, said the idea for Songs4Smiles came after she played solo concerts of Disney songs for preoperative pediatric patients at Ronald McDonald House Charities of San Diego at Rady Children’s Hospital to help calm their nerves.
“I realized that so many kids … need more support for their medical journeys,” she said. “So if I could share my musical talents with them, why not?”
That experience led her to form the quartet with friends “because it’s kind of scary for these kids at Ronald McDonald. … They’re away from home, and anything that we can do to brighten those kids’ days would mean the world,” Shannon said.
“Giving back to the community is our main goal.”
Songs4Smiles was founded in the fall and originally included Shannon, who also plays for the Mainly Mozart Youth Orchestra; violinist Lilian Franqui, a sophomore at The Bishop’s School in La Jolla who also plays with the San Diego Youth Symphony; violinist Johanna Lee, who now attends school in Pennsylvania; and cellist Vera Müller, a seventh-grader at Carmel Valley Middle School who also plays with the San Diego Youth Symphony.
Shannon’s brother, violinist James Cao, a seventh-grader at Muirlands Middle School in La Jolla who plays with the Mainly Mozart Youth Orchestra, recently took Johanna’s place.
Lilian is unable to play in the April 8 concert, so violinist Jasmine Chan, an eighth-grader at Carmel Valley Middle School who also plays with the San Diego Youth Symphony, will take her place.
Songs4Smiles has played three times for Rady’s patients at the Ronald McDonald House Charities of San Diego, along with a few additional concerts, including the San Diego Hua Xia Chinese School Lunar New Year Fair, which also was a fundraiser for Joey’s Wings.
“Everything around my life is community-based,” said Shannon, who is president of the La Jolla High School food bank club, among other philanthropic efforts.
She said she has been drawn to helping others since a young age, including friends who need help with homework.
“I realized that so many kids … need more support for their medical journeys. So if I could share my musical talents with them, why not?”
— Shannon Cao
Shannon first learned of Joey’s Wings in 2018, when she played at a fundraiser for the foundation in one of her Chinese music groups.
She learned the group’s namesake had died from kidney cancer at age 10 in 2014, prompting his mother to raise awareness about childhood kidney cancer and raise funds for research.
“I thought that’s a great impact and a good thing for the community, because we need to raise awareness about cancer research. … There’s not a lot of research around kidney cancer, especially in children,” Shannon said.
She recently reconnected with Joey’s Wings to spread awareness for the cause in La Jolla and elsewhere in San Diego. Joey’s mother, Kathy Liu, will be at the April 8 concert, Shannon said.
Shannon said she hopes many elementary school students also will attend, noting that Joey himself played violin.
“Introducing kids to music and the power that it can bring to a person’s life is very important,” Shannon said.
For more information about the quartet, visit songs4smiles.org. For more about the concert, go to songs4smiles.org/joeyswings_concert.html. ◆