The Youth Orchestra Los Angeles (YOLA) is the 15-year-old embodiment of the Los Angeles Philharmonic (LA Phil). Music & Artistic Director Gustavo Dudamel, believes that music is a fundamental human right. YOLA democratizes music education by offering free, high-quality music training to students ages 5 to 18.

The newest site for the program, the Judith and Thomas L. Beckmen YOLA Center at Inglewood (BYC), opened last August  and Moses Aubrey wears many hats there. 

“I help recruit students, talk to parents, help get children enrolled in the program, conduct open house events, help students feel welcomed, help schedule teaching and keep an inventory of instruments,” said Aubrey, who is familiar with the program. Born and raised in South LA, he was a student in YOLA at Expo until 2015, when he went off to college to study music. 

“I’m a bass player,” he said. “Prior to YOLA, I didn’t know what a bass was.”

There are a total of five sites for YOLA. Besides Inglewood and Exposition, there are sites near MacArthur Park, YOLA at Torres and YOLA at Camino Nuevo. Altogether, the sites serve around 1,000 underserved youth each week. There are just over 100 students currently at YOLA Inglewood, which is located on LaBrea Avenue.

The LA Philharmonic organization chooses areas it feels have been historically excluded when it comes to music education. Funding for focused music programs in some area schools is not always there.

Students at the five locations audition to get into one of the three “cross-site” orchestras — beginner, intermediate or advanced — which perform throughout the city.

Before YOLA Inglewood opened last summer, Aubrey visited local churches and schools within a five-mile radius of the center’s site. He noted that the program does not do a lot of advertising, but mostly relies on word of mouth.

“I attended the Inglewood Unified School District back-to-school night,” he said. “It’s kind of like a fair for all the families to see the resources available to the community. I reached out to principals, to help spread the word.”

Aubrey also coordinated a unique display during last month’s Inglewood Festival.

“We had an instrument petting zoo,” he said, explaining that various percussion, woodwind and string instruments were on display for visitors to hold, using covid-safety procedures. “I was in charge of string instruments and would give a five-minute lesson on how to play.”

YOLA administrators believe that the program can harness the transformative power of music to build community, foster intellectual and artistic growth, and nurture the creative spirit. It has become one of the country’s most influential music education programs.

At BYC, the first dedicated space for a YOLA program, students are provided free instruments; up to 18 hours a week of intensive after-school training and instruction; ensemble-based learning; life skills development in leadership, mentorship, and communication; academic tutoring and college prep; and parent and family engagement.

In addition to its youth programming, the Beckmen YOLA Center is a space for music educators from across the U.S. and around the world to collaborate and learn. YOLA National brings together leaders in the field of music and youth development, music students, professional musicians, and educators across the country every year. Is an international teaching center: hosting teacher training and convenings for music educators from around the world.

It was designed as a cultural resource for the people of Inglewood, and acts as the focal point of the LA Phil’s commitment to community engagement in the area. The LA Phil is committed to learning alongside our community, and to enabling and supporting the next generation of musicians, whether they’re picking up an instrument for the first time or penning their own compositions. 

Nhani Cyrus-Franklin has been involved in YOLA for just a few months

“I started picking up the trumpet,” the 10-year-old said. “After winter break, that’s when we started to get our instruments.”

Pre-pandemic, Inglewood First United Methodist Church, Where Cyrus-Franklin’s father preaches, had a series of meetings with a liaison for community engagement for the LA Philharmonic. The YOLA site was still under construction and they were looking for faith communities to help spread the word in the neighborhood.

“I always loved music,” Cyrus-Franklin said. “And it was just a part of me and I really want to learn more.”

The 10-year-old enjoys her Monday through Thursday afternoon lessons with her teacher and admits that, in actuality, she chose the trumpet because she thought it was an easy instrument. 

“I really love the way the trumpet sounds. It’s a good instrument, but sometimes it can be a little hard,” Cyrus-Franklin admitted. “The thing that I love about the trumpet is that you can play jazz, and that’s like my favorite kind of music, and I just want to learn more, so that I can play more.”

The project emerged out of a close collaboration between the City of Inglewood, architect Frank Gehry, and LA Phil. Organizers are planning a long-term vision for the Center to serve as a creative laboratory, learning hub, community center, and a lively, welcoming place for the community.

“The community is amazing. You get to learn more and you get to meet more people every time you’re there,” Cyrus-Franklin said. “And you get to play with people every time you’re there.” 

Students from all YOLA sites can play together in person and connect digitally through state-of-the-art distance learning technology and livestream capabilities. 

“Now more than ever, arts institutions must be a part of the communities that surround them,” Dudamel has said. “It is only through that connection and mutual understanding that we will be able to create meaningful, sustainable change and to truly come together in our shared mission of providing youth with access to music and education.”

For more information, contact YOLA@laphil.org or call (213) 972.8560.

Our Weekly coverage of local news in Los Angeles County is supported by the Ethnic Media Sustainability Initiative, a program created by California Black Media and Ethnic Media Services to support minority-owned-and-operated community newspapers across California.

Our Weekly coverage of local news in Los Angeles County is supported by the Ethnic Media Sustainability Initiative, a program created by California Black Media and Ethnic Media Services to support minority-owned-and-operated community newspapers across California.

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