This Youth Classical Music Program Turns No Students Away

Mike Lawson • News • February 8, 2016

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For a group of children in Yakima, Washington, life is changing one cello at a time.

Young children line up outside the music room at Garfield Elementary School under the only graffiti on campus. It says “La musica de la vida,” words that are true for these kids. They are members of YAMA, which stands for Yakima Music en Acción, or “Music in Action.”

The program aims to educate under-served children on classical music study and performance. Students in grades three through eight from nearby schools attend YAMA, and they rehearse at Garfield Elementary School.

In the music room, intermediate cello players work on a haunting Russian melody while the teacher encourages them to play, “Proud! Strong!” In the library, newly-minted musicians — the really little kids — make a rainbow shape with their bows and drop them onto violin strings for the first time. Down the hall in a classroom, the more advanced violin section is biting into the William Tell Overture. And it is biting back.

“Persistence!” program founder, Stephanie Hsu, yells above the fray. “Nobody falls off this bus!”

Persistence is an understatement. This isn’t a once-a-week music appreciation class. It is a rigorous program to master a musical instrument, requiring two hours after school every day. Most of these children also practice at home in the evenings and on weekends.

“Without YAMA, you are just bored at home, there is nothing to do. But with YAMA you can play music and it’s fun,” said Jaiden Cano, an 11-year-old boy with a mischievous smile. “When you are really frustrated and you can’t play a part, practice. You will get better and then you will just feel it.”

Stephanie Hsu, a musician from New York City, relocated to Yakima to start YAMA. It is based on El Sistema, a program in Venezuela which has worked with thousands of children, including Gustavo Dudamel, who grew up to become the dashing young music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic.


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