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Someone San Diego Should Know: Terry Lewis

The social separation brought on by the pandemic compelled many of us to pursue ways of coping with isolation. Some took on cooking and baking, and others gardening, woodworking or biking. Maybe playing the piano or guitar was a refuge from the dark cloud and uncertainty triggered by the lockdowns.

Engaging with musical instruments allows one to experience the benefits of music and provides an escape from an unstable world. Terry Lewis is well aware of this and has dedicated his distinguished musical career to bringing students opportunities for music creation through music education as well as equipping schools with musical instruments.

Lewis is the new executive director of the Sound Start Foundation based in North County and the charitable arm of a global leader in audio innovation, Sound United. In this position, Lewis is fulfilling his mission to expand opportunities for musical education for those who may not otherwise have access to instruments and instruction. Sound Start partners with Save the Music, a nonprofit dedicated toward restoring instrumental music education in schools and connecting schools in underserved communities with music.

Terry Lewis

For Lewis, the work is all about “getting instruments into the hands of children” and promoting positive brain development, enhanced academic achievement and wellness through music. He wants to donate 250,000 instruments in the next five years for young musicians.

Some of the schools the foundation has helped with “Intro to Music” classes are Richland, Knob Hill and Twin Oaks elementary schools in the San Marcos Unified School District.

“To me, there is no greater reward than to see a young child pick up a musical instrument for the first time, engage in the rich experience of learning to play, become proficient at playing it, and eventually participating in a school band and orchestra program,” Lewis said. “While many school districts across the country consider music programs essential to their students’ education, there are many underserved communities that unfortunately provide few opportunities for children to access it, and there are also still children in need even where good programs exist already.”

The Sound Start Foundation “goal is a simple one: to increase student music participation in all schools across the country, so the next generation has a path to explore the wonders of making music and all of its proven physical, psychological and social benefits.”

Before assuming his new role at Sound Start Foundation, Lewis co-founded the Yamaha Music and Wellness Institute, a nonprofit that researches the cognitive effects of music on the brain and supports school music programs.

His volunteer work has centered on music and access to music-making through his involvement with the Music Therapy Center of California, which connects music with the autistic community. He also has been a long-time collaborator and former board member of the National Association of Music Merchants (NAMM), based in Carlsbad. Lewis said San Diego is a “hotbed for music innovation” for aspiring musicians. He is eager to connect communities with musical opportunities, especially after a slowdown in charitable activity during the pandemic.

Originally from Minnesota, Lewis studied music at the University of Minnesota and started his career teaching music and in music retail. He and his wife, Sue, a lifelong music educator with a master’s in vocal music, were lured to Southern California to pursue his MBA at Pepperdine University, and he took the top executive position with Yamaha in Buena Park. The couple now live in Vista.

In Lewis’ spare time he plays horns, keyboards, and guitar.

About this series

Someone San Diego Should Know is a column written by members of the U-T’s Community Advisory Board about local people who are interesting and noteworthy because of their experiences, achievements, creativity or credentials.

Clarissa Reyes Falcon is a member of the U-T’s Community Advisory Board and a member of the California Transportation Commission. She is founder of the government and community relations firm Falcon Strategies.