Fri, May

Youth Orchestra Los Angeles in Inglewood

Performing Arts

YOLA provides children free instruments, intensive music instruction, and opportunities to perform on stages in their communities and around the world.

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Photos by Sam Comen and Paul Cressey, courtesy of YOLA

By Jason Lewis

Inglewood has been going through a transformation over the last few years with the opening of SoFi Stadium and construction of a new basketball arena.  This city, which has one of Los Angeles County’s largest Black communities, has also attracted the Los Angeles Philharmonic (LA Phil), who opened a permanent home for the Youth Orchestra Los Angeles (YOLA) program.  The Beckmen YOLA Center sits adjacent to City Hall, and it started its first class in September of 2021 with 130 elementary school students.

Historically Black communities have been deprived of resources that are in abundance in more affluent communities, which is one of many reasons as to why it is impactful for the LA Phil to select Inglewood as one of the homes to the YOLA.

“Communities of color are negatively impacted by lack of equitable access to resources, which is systemic in nature,” said Camille Delaney-McNeil, the director of Beckmen YOLA Center.  “Part of the YOLA program is to break down those barriers and provide that access.  There is already richness of culture and art in our communities of color, in Black and Hispanic communities.  Part of what we have to do as an institution is uplift and celebrate that.

“The LA Phil and YOLA has set up roots here.  It’s not a popup.  That’s another issue that we experience in communities of color.  We get beautiful resources and access, and then it goes away.  That’s not the case here.  It really says that quality and access of the best of the best in all communities is important, especially in our Black and Brown communities.  This is for our young people; to have something that they deserve that is of the highest quality that it can be.”

Studies have shown that learning an instrument at an early age can have a positive impact on childhood development.

“What you’ll find in research studies are the phrases of ‘neural plasticity,’ ‘executive functioning, ’burrow’ meaning listening and ear development,” Delaney-McNeil said.  “These are all things that are stimulated in a very accelerated way when you are participating in artistic pursuits, especially when that is manifested in learning and playing an instrument.  When the neurons are firing a little faster, your brain development timeline, your ability to problem solve, and your ability to listen and discern is higher and more pronounced.  There is also a lot of research about language development that is produced through musical study because of the parts of the brain that are activated when you are processing that.  So it helps with language development, reading skills, and problem solving because you have to track on the page, read the notes, execute your fingers and motor skills on the instrument at the same time.  You have to then listen across the ensemble  to your colleague in the back, and keep time and measurement.  You have to be responsive to the teacher or conductor in the front.  All of this is happening simultaneously.  There are very few things that are that unique that really have strong impact on brain development.”

The skills developed while learning music can help children in other paths that they may choose to take.

“They have the opportunity to leverage this thing called music and arts to cultivate and craft whatever future that they see for themselves,” Delaney-McNeil said.  “You really learn a lot of skillsets that can take you far when you learn the discipline of musical instruction.”

While many of the students receive musical instruction from other programs and private instructors, there is no experience needed to enroll a child into this program.  

“What we require of our families and our young musicians is just a lot of time, a lot of commitment, a lot of dedication, and a lot of engagement,” Delaney-McNeil said.

Music lessons can be very expensive, but the YOLA program removes those financial barriers by making this program free.  Most of the students come from Inglewood, but residents from outside of the city can also enroll their children.

For more information about the YOLA program, and for a schedule of concerts and events, visit www.laphil.com/learn/yola.