National Performance Network > News > New Orleans Hosts One of 40 El Sistema Projects in the U.S.

New Orleans Hosts One of 40 El Sistema Projects in the U.S.

Posted: Monday, June 24th, 2013 at 6:55 pm in News

YOL9W_Fall2012-002-boy-withDedication, commitment, passion, hard work, consistency — and let’s not forget love, fun, family, and community. These are values that define the daily work and program structure of the Youth Orchestra of the Lower 9th Ward (YOL9W). Founded on passion, driven by love and sweat equity, and aimed at breaking the poverty cycle, the program began with five students in September 2011 in a converted Walgreens on the corner of St. Claude and Caffin Avenue in the Lower 9th Ward of New Orleans. Now there are 42 students (with a waiting list), in only two short years.

YOL9W is modeled after the Venezuelan Youth Orchestra System, El Sistema, which produced Gustavo Dudamel (current conductor of the Los Angeles Philharmonic) and Edicson Ruiz, the youngest member of the Berlin Philharmonic. El Sistema was founded in 1975 and based on the principal that music can be used as a vehicle for social change. YOL9W is currently one of over forty El Sistema inspired programs across the U.S. For thirty weeks each year, students attend hour-long music classes four days a week. Highly qualified teachers work with small groups of students on scales, repertoire, technique, and the fundamentals of reading music. In one year, the students have performed eight public concerts at local music venues, church services, and Tulane and Loyola University. Currently, the program enrolls students ages five to fourteen. All YOL9W students live in the Upper 9th Ward, the Lower 9th Ward, and the 7th Ward. In addition to daily instrumental music lessons, the students also receive a healthy dinner and a half hour of homework help.

Although the program is called a “youth orchestra” the name is actually quite deceiving; YOL9W is not a training program for classical music. The program’s repertoire is selected and arranged for strings (violins, cellos, and basses) from traditional New Orleans’ tunes, spirituals, hymns, and the music of local composers. The staff and board continue to build a program that teaches young people about New Orleans’ music and the importance of their culture and local traditions. This year, the students performed “I’ll Fly Away,” “Saints Go Marching In,” and “Iko Iko.” YOL9W students have had the opportunity to work with a bassist from Preservation Hall, a jazz violinist, and several other outstanding local musicians.

In addition to teaching music, the program aims to create a community among its students, faculty, staff, and volunteers. YOL9W teachers frequently take their students to outside performances, stay late to have dinner with the kids, and show up on their days off to celebrate holidays and birthdays. As the program continues to grow and progress, YOL9W will strive to create an environment in which its students stay motivated and strive for excellence. Centered in “blighted” neighborhoods in the 9th Wards, YOL9W offers kids a safe environment and a positive way to channel their energy. By creating opportunities, training competent musicians, and inspiring students to achieve their full potential, the YOL9W staff and board hope to see personal and musical growth throughout the years. Next school year, YOL9W plans to partner with the Sarasota Orchestra to send ten students to their three-week camp in Florida, host musicians from Youth Orchestra of the Americas, and send several students to New York in partnership with Operation Southern Comfort and the Tri-Valley YMCA.

More information on the program is available at:

YOL9W Todd fans check

YOL9W recently had a visit from musician/producer Todd Rundgren and some of his “Fan Family” who donated $10,000 to YOL9W in honor of Todd’s 65th birthday.

Past Issues