Ruth Ellen Jacobson is the executive director of the El Paso Symphony Orchestra (EPSO) and founder of its Tocando Music Project, which aims to empower children growing up in challenging social and economic conditions in and near El Paso, Texas, to transform their lives through music. Founded in 2013 in El Segundo Barrio, El Paso’s historic Hispanic district, Tocando’s immersive music education provides its students, many of them children of first- and second-generation immigrants, with a strong sense of community, opportunities to build life skills, and the tools and confidence needed to achieve academic success.
Inspired by Venezuela’s “El Sistema,” an international youth orchestra movement, Tocando’s core programming is in-school and after-school music study provided in four local schools at no cost to students. Instruction includes piano, choir, sectionals, string instruments through orchestra rehearsals, as well as music fundamentals classes. In addition to intensive music education, students also receive weekly academic support, field trips to cultural events, art museums, and concerts, as well as opportunities to perform in the community, participate in a career day at a local college, and attend summer music camps.
The Tocando Music Project has touched the lives of nearly 300 students with the help of a team of volunteer music instructors and mentors, dozens of individual volunteers who host fundraisers and develop relationships with the students, and strong philanthropic support, including partnerships with Carnegie Hall’s PlayUSA program, the NAMM Foundation, and the Getty Foundation. Through music study, students acquire valuable life skills—such as teamwork, leadership, and discipline—that help pave the way for future academic and career achievements. While some students have gone on to play in the EPSO’s youth orchestra and received a full scholarship, the goal of the program is not to “make musicians,” but to help students gain confidence and motivation to succeed in life.
Ruth Ellen Jacobson began her career at the El Paso Symphony Orchestra in 1998. Previously a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) and local hospital administrator, Jacobson has guided EPSO through 21 successful concert seasons. With her leadership, the symphony, which is in its 90th continually-running season, has begun new and innovative education and outreach programs in addition to Tocando: Strings-in-Schools, Kids For Klassics, the El Paso Symphony Youth Orchestra, and many more.
In 2020, Jacobson and EPSO’s Tocando Music Project were recognized with a Manhattan Institute Civil Society Award.
Learn more about the Tocando Music Project at https://tocandomusicproject.org/.