La Jolla High School senior celebrates music, mentoring

By Ashley Mackin

La Jolla High School senior and trumpet player, Phillip Ryan, is in the midst of his seventh year at the San Diego Youth Symphony (SDYS), where he’s earned two awards — one for longevity and one for mentorship.

Living proof of the power of role models, 18-year-old Ryan — son of Petra and Joe Ryan of Pacific Beach and big brother to Rebecca (a member of the LJHS Girls Varsity Golf Team) — is passing the lessons he learned on to the next generation of young musicians.

When he joined SDYS in 2006, Ryan was in fifth grade and on the young end of the Symphony’s age spectrum. (The youngest musicians it accepts must be age 8 or in third grade.) “There were eight other trumpet players then, and I was ninth chair, but just being there and being with these older musicians was really cool,” he said, adding he got insight from the older students, who told him to stick with it.

Heeding their advice, Ryan is on his way to being among the longest-running members of the symphony, and was recently awarded the SDYS and Conservatory Certificate for seven-year participation. He is one of three musicians to earn the award out of 600 student musicians.

Seeing the older kids be a part of SDYS encouraged him to stay for as long as he did.

“Kids need someone to look up to, someone to make them feel less intimidated. It can be scary sitting in there and performing in a big concert hall, but you get a little more comfortable with someone who’s been there telling you that it’s going to be all right,” he said. “It helped me.”

Now Ryan is returning the favor, and mentors the trumpet section of the beginner’s symphony. He explained that he and the other mentors, after their own rehearsal, stay for the beginner symphony.

“I sit with their trumpet section and give them advice; be a presence for them. I’ve been here for so long and they’ve taught me so much and gotten me to where I am now as a trumpet player, the least I can do is give back.”

SDYS recognized his efforts with a mentoring certificate.

When Ryan goes to college in the fall, he’ll go from mentor to mentee. He recently finished submitting college applications, and wanted to make sure he had a leg-up on his competition. For the schools on his list with strong football programs, he contacted the marching band director, hoping to garner favor. “A good football program needs a good marching band,” he said (and what would a good marching band be without trumpeters?) “Plus it’s free seats to all the home games.”

In addition to watching football, Ryan likes to surf. “I used to play baseball with La Jolla Youth Baseball, too. Every Saturday I would have baseball practice, but I would also have symphony rehearsal. I remember having to leave early or miss games to get to rehearsal, which I hated,” he said.

Another challenge was the occasional jab from his team members, who called him “trumpet boy.” “But I think they are jealous now, because the thing I do for fun could help me get into college,” he said. “I’m glad I stuck with it. Maybe playing the trumpet is a little dorky, but I’m happy with it.”

Ryan said he decided on the trumpet a few years before he joined the symphony. While looking at different instruments for his school band — though he was determined to play saxophone — he was introduced to the trumpet.

“Before I played trumpet, I played piano ... and that gives you a leg- up because the trumpet and the piano have the same scale and same chords,” he said. “So it’s easier for someone to become a trumpet player after playing piano.”

Calling Ryan a “true talent,” SDYS Music Director Jeff Edmonds said the youth symphony has a solid mentorship program. “Phillip is truly helping the younger kids and sharing his talent and musical experience with them. He lets the younger kids see what’s ahead of them through his eyes. We are all proud of him and know he has wonderful things ahead of him.”

If you go:

■What: San Diego Youth Symphony Artist Series Concert

■When: 7 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 25

■Where: California Center for the Arts, 340 N. Escondido Blvd., Escondido

■ Program: Gershwin’s ‘Rhapsody in Blue’ with guest pianist Sidney Yin, SDYS artistic administrator; Shostakovich’s ‘Folk Festival’; Beethoven’s ‘Symphony No. 2’; and Bartok’s ‘Viola Concerto’ with SDYS competition winner Andrea Fortier as soloist.

■ Tickets: $10-$25

■ Contact: (619) 233-3232

■ Website: