Young Musicians Hitting All Chords

Alexandria Garcia, 15, cannot imagine life without her trumpet. Now thanks to the seven year old Youth Orchestra LA program (YOLA), brainchild of LA Philharmonic Music Director Gustavo Dudamel, the petite freshman at Foshay Learning Center in South Los Angeles does not have to. For the past five years she’s been practicing at least 2 hours a day, every day, honing her technique, musicianship and abilities so that in a few years she can attend a conservatory and eventually, play professionally in an orchestra.

“When I tried the trumpet, it was just calling my name,” she said. As it is now, she can’t imagine her life without her trumpet or music. “Music gives children something productive to do with their lives instead of sit at home and play video games. I don’t know what I would be doing if I didn’t have music.”

Garcia is one of the more than 600 students whose lives have been forever changed by the youth orchestra program. Inspired by Venezuela’s revolutionary El Sistema, a rigorous music instruction program that also teaches children about leadership, teamwork and becoming thriving citizens, the Los Angeles Philharmonic and its community partners — Harmony Project and the EXPO Center, a Los Angeles recreation and parks center, Heart of Los Angeles (HOLA) and the LA County High School for the Arts –provide free instruments, intensive music training and academic support to a select group of students every day of the week.

One of the YOLA sites includes three orchestras that rehearse at the Expo Center in South Los Angeles. Each orchestra is made up of children ranging in ability from several schools from the area. On May 10, six of YOLA’s orchestras will perform at Walt Disney Hall for their families. This year, 10 of the advanced orchestra students, including eight from the Second District, were selected to travel to Boston where they met the famous cellist, Yo-Yo Ma and were coached by musicians from one of the city’s world-renowned music conservatories. Then the students themselves coached younger musicians in community music schools and performed an open rehearsal under Dudamel’s baton at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

They enjoyed visiting the conservatories, but to some of the students, mingling with Dudamel and Ma is just par for the course of being a YOLA musician.

“The kids are almost celebrities around here,” said Belinda Jackson, executive director of the Expo Center, where three YOLA orchestras practice every day of the week. “I mean, they have played at the Hollywood Bowl.”

But nothing gets the students more excited than the music. At a recent rehearsal, the students fluttered like a flock of birds at feeding time when it was time to play Mexican composer Arturo Marquez’s Danzon No. 2. Conductor Bruce Kiesling, tapped his baton on the music stand and brought the room to order. Then clarinet and the oboe began, weaving together in perfect harmony, slowly building as the violins swooned into a rising tempo. As the brass joined in, the room exploded into a tropical danzon, with the children dancing in their chairs, unable to contain themselves.

“I move so much that my butt is going to fall out of my chair,” Garcia noted, whose favorite piece is Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 2. “Moving just shows the real passion I have for music.”