It’s National Arts in Education Week! What better time to call out the incredible work done by our grantees to fuel the creative minds of California’s youth?
The Los Angeles Philharmonic Association and its Youth Orchestra LA program became a California Arts Council grantee just this year. The award was made possible by a funding increase that allowed us to build upon our existing Artists in Schools program, taking arts education beyond the standard school day. The Extension branch of the Artists in Schools grant program awarded funding, for the first time, to arts programming held after school but off school premises, in the summer or in a community setting.
Below, Vice President of Educational Initiatives Gretchen Nielsen and recent YOLA graduate Josue May explain the program and its impact:
Youth Orchestra LA (YOLA) is the signature education initiative of LA Phil Music and Artistic Director Gustavo Dudamel, launched in 2007. YOLA offers after-school music instruction in three underserved Los Angeles neighborhoods: South L.A., the Rampart District, and East L.A. The program is built on the strength of some remarkable partnerships: the L.A. Department of Parks and Recreation, the Harmony Project, Heart of Los Angeles, L.A. County Supervisor Hilda Solis and the L.A. County Office of Education. All partners share programmatic and financial responsibility.
Each site provides free, intensive music instruction, as well as social-service support, academic support, and leadership development. Students are together 16 hours per week after school, and YOLA’s intensity enables its success as a community.
We’ve noticed once YOLA students reach high school, they become more self-reflective of their role and impact in developing a community within YOLA. They’re recognizing YOLA’s place in the larger music education ecosystem, and that people are looking at this kind of program as a potential model to transform music education — one that has the power to create social change by combining aspects of youth development, access and equity, and high level music training. YOLA musicians are the best advocates for this work — they join the LA Phil on international tours to teach and perform, and present about their experiences in YOLA. As alumni, they return to YOLA as camp counselors and mentors for our summer programs. They are the future ambassadors for change in the world of music education and beyond. I couldn’t be more proud.
Funding from the California Arts Council is a vote of confidence that programs like YOLA are important, and that all kids deserve access to music education.
With that in mind, I’d love to introduce you to Josue May, one of YOLA’s recent graduates (pictured above, wearing purple and playing the trombone). Josue joined YOLA at EXPO in its first year a decade ago, and just graduated from the Los Angeles County High School for the Arts. He’ll attend CalArts in the fall to study music. He recently answered some questions about his time in YOLA and his upcoming plans.
—Gretchen Nielsen, Vice President, Educational Initiatives
You and about 20 other YOLA musicians played the national anthem at Dodger Stadium on July 5. What was that like?
I’m a huge Dodgers fan — and I’d never been down on the field before — so it was really cool. We didn’t get to do a sound check, though. There was a full second delay between when we’d play a note and when we’d hear it through the sound system. We just had to really focus. Afterward I also saw Yasiel Puig nearby, talking to the manager.
You started out playing percussion. How’d you wind up on trombone?
In the fourth grade, my music teacher demonstrated different instruments for us, and I thought the trombone was really funny. I’ve been playing it ever since. I really like how it stands out. In the orchestra, it controls the level of emotion and portrays a lot of different feelings. It also adds a really majestic tone to the orchestra.
How did you settle on the California Institute of the Arts for college?
I applied to a few other music schools. But CalArts — besides being convenient and close to home — has the LA Phil’s associate principal trombonist teaching there. They also have a wide curriculum of other styles of music. For instance, I played in a big band, but I haven’t studied jazz, and that’s something I want to start doing.
When you started at YOLA 10 years ago, did you imagine you’d be headed to music school?
I put this in my college essay: I’ve known I wanted to be a musician since I was 7 or 8 years old. I’ve always been really drawn to it. When I got into [Los Angeles County High School for the Arts], I realized that everybody else took private lessons, which I’d thought was really rare. It led me to appreciate the opportunities YOLA gave me even more.