Nurturing the Ensemble

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Youth Orchestra Los Angeles (YOLA) at Heart of Los Angeles (HOLA), Los Angeles, CA

Emily Kubitskey and Nikki Shorts, teaching artists

Gustavo Dudamel is the world’s most prominent example of a musician nurtured through the Venezuelan Sistema. As the music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, he is the public face of all that is possible through El Sistema.

Los Angeles and its orchestra are home to one of the largest and most active Sistema-inspired programs in the U.S. — YOLA, or Youth Orchestra Los Angeles. YOLA at HOLA (Heart of Los Angeles) is located in the Rampart District, a heavily gang-infested neighborhood of L.A. This after-school program demonstrates what it means to place the orchestral ensemble at the center of musical learning and social development.

Working fifteen hours a week, students are challenged to build solid music fundamentals — such as aural skills — to achieve technical expertise. Rigor in the pursuit of artistic excellence is central to the program’s success.


  • Programs both serve and respond to the needs of a community, as well as build on the assets of a community.
  • Ensemble music-making is at the heart of all learning — both musical and social.
  • Performance should happen every day at every occasion, rather than only at special events.
  • No student is too young to be a vital contributing member of a musical ensemble.
  • Musicians have a responsibility to share their skills or knowledge with others who are still learning.


  • Organizing sectionals into teams according to learning needs
  • Encouraging orchestra players to sing and solfège their parts (and the melody) as well as play them on their instruments
  • Recording learning in ungraded personal notebooks
  • Using and encouraging students to use positive reinforcement language
  • Playing a game to promote memorization of musical facts
  • Giving back to the community through performances large and small


The musical activities in this unit address the following Anchor Standards of the National Core Arts Standards:


  • Analyze, interpret, and select artistic work for presentation
  • Develop and refine artistic work for presentation


  • Perceive and analyze artistic work