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YOLA National Symposium Recap

Watch & Listen

For three incredible days in July 2019, the YOLA National Symposium brought together hundreds of students, educators, and artistic leaders from El Sistema-inspired and youth development music programs all across the world, culminating in a performance of the YOLA National Festival Orchestras. Here are some of the highlights of what the symposium attendees created.

Letters to My Younger Self

Symposium attendees and YOLA musicians wrote welcome letters to their young selves as they embarked on their first musical journeys.

Dear Olivia,

Welcome to music! What’s fantastic about music is that you’ll never be bored or alone again. You’ll constantly be challenged to push yourself. You’ll challenge your ideas of what is possible. You’ll meet some of the most incredible people, and you’ll visit the most breathtaking places. It’ll open your eyes and your mind to ideas and ways of life you never thought possible. 

There will be challenges. You’ll struggle with feeling like your body will never feel comfortable holding an instrument. That you’ll never look right on stage. People will tell you you don’t belong with their words, their actions, their faces. But it’ll serve to make you more confident. Stronger. Better and ready to take on any challenge that comes your way. 

What you need to know now is that all that matters is that you do what you love and never lose the joy you feel whenever you make music. Above all else, it’s the music that will carry you home. 


People will tell you you don’t belong with their words, their actions, their faces. But it’ll serve to make you more confident. Stronger. Better and ready to take on any challenge that comes your way.

Dear Pedro, 

Music will serve as your guidance to humanity. Although you’re not sure of it yet, playing your instrument is training you to speak your voice of civics—civics means meaning the love, passion, and care you have for the diverse people in the world. What you need to do is to practice excellence in your craft, so you can step forward as an example for those who will respect you for it. 

Although the work is strenuous, and although you’ll encounter prejudice and bigotry, your voice as a musician will remind humanity to love each other just the way WE are. 

Yours in loving music, 

What you need to do is to practice excellence in your craft, so you can step forward as an example for those who will respect you for it.

Music-Powered Super Me

We asked YOLA musicians, "if you're powered by music, you're a superhero. But what are music's superpowers? Who's music's sidekick (and who's music's mortal enemy?)" Here are their drawings.

Interviews with local YOLA musicians

We wanted to hear from young people to share some of their perspectives. We were joined by young people from local programs YOLA at EXPO Center, YOLA at HOLA, and YOLA at Torres. Here's what they told us.

Jose, 16
Cellist at YOLA at EXPO Center

What is your favorite piece of music? Hmmm. That’s a tough one, but I think right now my favorite one would have to be Tchaikovsky’s 2nd Symphony because we played it in my orchestra last semester. I’m pretty sure it’s going to change, but that’s it right now.

What do you love about playing music? It’s very freeing, especially since I go to a public charter school with no music program, so YOLA is my artistic outlet.

What in music do you struggle with? For me, staying motivated and feeling like I’m good enough because there’s a lot of competition. Sometimes I do struggle with keeping going, especially when I feel like there’s not enough support, but I always manage to bring myself back up.

Outside music, what else do you love? I really like science and math and engineering—I like STEM. Music and STEM are very different things and sometimes it can be hard to incorporate both of them, but I believe there are many ways it can be done. For example, right across the street is Walt Disney Concert Hall, which took a lot of ingenuity and acoustic knowledge, and that’s one way to incorporate them all together.

What keeps you going when things get hard? Just knowing that my parents put me into the program, and they came to this country when they were pretty young, so knowing that I’m making them proud is one of the biggest things that motivates me.

What advice would you give to teachers, so they can more often get the best out of students? Listen to your students, and, every once in a while, just ask “what do you think we can do to make our class better?” or “what do you want to do in class?” We do that in my cello class, we talk as a group about what we want to see the next semester, and that communication helps bring everybody together and have a better relationship between teachers and students.

What advice would you give young people who have never made music? It’s never too late to start. Even if you didn’t start as young as five years old, it’s okay, you still have time! You may not be very good at first, but like everything else in life, it takes practice and patience and being open to new ideas as you go.

And what would you like to say to them about yourself and about music? At first they might not want to do music, but along the way, they will start loving it. Be patient with them—for me, it took a long time to start taking music seriously. I think my parents have been worried because I’m still deciding whether I want to do music in college, but don’t limit your child to what they want to do in the future.

Leydi, 14
Flute player at YOLA at Torres

What do you love about playing music? I love to connect with people that have the same passions. Music helped me fit in after I was a new resident of this country after I moved from Mexico. It was difficult to learn a new language, and my parents were working a lot, so I felt lonely. Music allowed me to make friends and have something in common with a community.

When did you realize that music was “your thing”? In about fourth grade. Music made me see something different in my school day and brought me happiness. School was easy, and music gave me a new challenge.

Outside music, what else do you love? I love my family and friends who have been there for me through my struggles. For example, even if I cannot attend a festival because I am not able to travel, I still take the audition. I always try and see the bright side of things. So, even if I can’t go to a festival, I should still learn the music for the audition so I can learn the new techniques and get better as a musician.

What advice would you give to teachers, so they can more often get the best out of students? Try to understand and support them not just in music but also as a person. Helping us see that even if you don’t completely fit into a large environment, you can still form a small peer group. Even if I can’t take advantage of every opportunity, my teachers still helped me prepare and grow. Teachers should share their own experiences so we can learn from their struggles and failures too.

What advice would you give young people who have never made music? Respect people who do want to be musicians. Offer support and be nice so future musicians do not get discouraged.

And what would you like to say to them about yourself, and about music? I would tell them that as a person that came to the U.S. new and lost, music taught me that everything will be okay. You do not only have to have an office job, but being a musician or artist could also be a reality and a profession. I want to inspire others and to show them that you do not have to be alone. With music, you can find others that share the same passion. I would like to make a program for kids like me who may feel lost or have barriers like not being able to travel or have enough money to do things.

Read More

Want to hear more about what these students have to say? Download the eBook they created during the 2019 YOLA National Symposium, "MUSIC: See us, hear us," available in both English and Spanish.


Download in English 


Descargar en Espanol

 This book was made in collaboration with B+A.