Simply the Best

Board member goes above and beyond for youth symphony

By Jessica Laskey
October 2020

Marilyn Best’s life has been full of music and she’s made it her mission, as the longest standing board member of the Sacramento Youth Symphony, to make that true for SYS’ youth musicians as well.

“Music is a wonderful way to share your life,” says the Arden Oaks resident who’s served on the SYS board since 1985. “That’s why I love the idea of having the youth orchestra—I find a lot of joy in working with young people.”

Marilyn Best’s lifelong love of music was instilled by her parents. Her father, Franklin Morris Rowles, served as one of the first presidents of the Sacramento Symphony Association and helped Sacramento start its first youth symphony—the precursor to SYS. He underwrote the first series of concerts, called “Symphony Concerts for Young People,” in 1959. Best’s mother Clare served with the association as well, and Best grew up taking piano lessons.

When she had her own children, Best insisted they also take music lessons and got them involved with Junior Music Sponsors, a local youth symphony group that merged with SYS in the 1980s. They got the chance to further their music studies in Geneva, Switzerland, when Best moved abroad with her son and two daughters in 1960 after her husband passed away. What was supposed to be a year of diversion became 23 years of residency filled with new experiences in language, culture and, most importantly, music.

Her children studied at the Geneva Conservatory of Music while Best studied pipe organ with one of the conservatory’s instructors. (Her children continue to play—Best’s son, who lives in Germany, performs in his community orchestra, and her daughter plays the organ at church.)

Best believes the organization is special, not only for the stellar music education it has provided young people since 1956, but also for the opportunity it provides youth to experience other cultures firsthand.

“The opportunity for youngsters to get to know each other and do things in other countries is a real learning experience,” says Best, who taught at the international school and served with the Christian Science church while living in Geneva. “When children can meet people from other countries, they become more open minded and caring. It’s so important for young people to see the world.”

It’s Best’s job as a board member to help SYS raise funds for those international tours, as well as the group’s 20-plus annual concerts. SYS general manager Robert Vann reports that Best is a voracious fundraiser, often “opening up her home for charitable events and meetings.”

The 64-year-old organization’s mission is to provide music education to more than 400 talented young musicians from all over the region through participation in five orchestral ensembles and regular concerts. In recognition of Best’s immense contributions, SYS dedicated its winter concerts to her earlier this year.

“It’s just a joy supporting these concerts,” says Best, who also loves playing tennis and ballroom dancing. “Artistic director and conductor Michael Neumann (who recently retired after 40 years) is such a wonderful asset. He’s very industrious and very encouraging to all the young people. It’s a blessing.”

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Jessica Laskey can be reached at Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram: @insidesacramento.

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