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YOLA Takes College: 2020 Edition

Watch & Listen

Eight graduates across three YOLA sites — Zenaida Aparicio-Alejo, K’Ly Jordan Carey, Daisy Ortiz, Christina Ogata, Fabiola Henryeth Marinero, Hannah Esquivel, Skyler Lee, and Gabriela Sigala — shared their stories with us.

Zenaida Aparicio-Alejo

Site: YOLA at HOLA
Years in YOLA: Seven
Instrument: Cello
Attending: Bob Cole Conservatory of Music at California State University, Long Beach
Major: Cello Performance

What are you most excited about for college?
Being able to make my family proud has been my greatest motivation yet. I am extremely excited to continue making them proud by being their first child to attend college. I am also very excited to continue making music and expanding my music career.

What are you enjoying about making music virtually?
I think that the thing I am enjoying the most is being able to have more time to expand my practice time. I believe that my techniques in the cello have improved since quarantine began. Also, still being able to see my friends even though it is through a screen.

What is your favorite YOLA memory?
My favorite memory is performing at Walt Disney Concert Hall last year. It was the first time that a student cello quartet performed there. It was really memorable because the quartet was made up of only girls and all of them have been my friends since I was a child. We all had solos, which made each of us in the quartet important. Little did I know it would be my last time performing there as a YOLA student.

What did you learn during your time in YOLA that you are going to take with you?
What I learned during my time at YOLA was inclusion. There are many different people throughout the YOLA sites and all of us are different. Some are introverts and some are extroverts. Even though some people do not talk as much as others everyone is still important. We all have a different task to do in order to create beautiful music. YOLA has taught me that everyone is valued, which is something that will be present for me throughout college.

K’Ly Jordan Carey

Site: YOLA at EXPO Center
Years in YOLA: Five
Instrument: Percussion
Attending: California State University, Northridge
Major: Percussion Performance

What are you most excited about for college?
I’m excited to develop my musical understanding, and I’m excited to meet other percussionists.

What are you enjoying about making music virtually?
Well, since we can’t play anything together, it’s been pretty boring if I'm being honest. We’ve been focusing on music theory though. That’s been fun.

What is your favorite YOLA memory?
My favorite YOLA memory? Man, there are so many. The best memory I've had is the tour back in 2016. Second to that, I'd have to say the last Disney concert I played. Sergio, Mikaela, and I played a trio called Stubernic by Mark Ford. I think we played it the best that day. 

What did you learn during your time in YOLA that you are going to take with you?
Everything. From learning how to read music to learning how to hold the triangle properly. My teacher Jessica Cameron has taught me so much and I'm grateful for that.

Daisy Ortiz

Site: YOLA at Torres
Years in YOLA: Two
Instrument: Viola
Attending: University of Chicago
Major: I intend to major in Biochemistry or Mathematics, with a minor in music, when I declare sophomore year.

What are you most excited about for college?
I am most excited about getting to know a new city and new peers who are just as motivated as I am in pursuing higher education at a prestigious university. I'm also very excited for the new independence I will be getting, and getting to know the history of a new city’s community.

What are you enjoying about making music virtually?
Making music virtually is definitely not the easiest. For my site, I have been able to make recordings to put pieces together for either my section or the entire orchestra. This is definitely so much fun, but is also a little difficult as we must all stay on the same tempo to have all of our segments align. Although it does take a lot of brain power to ensure we are on the right tempo, it is the most fun because of the end result. It may not be the same as being in a room together, but it definitely combines all of our passions into one video where we are able to recreate that same connection, even if it's a few miles apart from one another.

What is your favorite YOLA memory?
I have two favorite YOLA memories. My first favorite YOLA memory has to be the first time I played at Walt Disney Concert Hall last April. From the time I was in fifth grade, I had a dream of being able to perform in that venue with an orchestra. It all began when my old music program took us to see the LA Phil perform; I was so captivated by their performance and all the emotions that filled my young mind. I have never experienced something like playing at a such a big venue like the Walt Disney Concert Hall. Once I joined YOLA, I was able to create this dream into a reality. My fifth grade self was in awe and was so proud of the steps I had taken to get to that moment.

The second was going to CDMX with a couple of my closest YOLA friends. Prior to the CDMX trip, I had never been to another country or gotten to know the place my parents called home for so many years. In traveling to a city where my family line originated from while also performing in one of the greatest venues, I was able to explore my passions of getting to know my background and share my passion of playing music with many audiences. The YOLA CDMX trip last November is definitely one of the best trips I have been on. I am so thankful to be a part of an organization that truly showcases the level of commitment the staff have to allow their students to get to know the life of being a musician.

What did you learn during your time in YOLA that you are going to take with you?
During my time in YOLA, I learned that music really brings people together. Whether it be with your section or in adjacent sections, through finding the right rhythm, the right song, the right pitch, together, we are able to create something so magical it moves every inch of our bodies. YOLA taught me that, through music, I am able to find the people that I can call family. Due to this, I plan to join University of Chicago's Symphony/Chamber Orchestra to be able to share my passion with other students who are not only as passionate about learning, but also about sharing the power of music.

Christina Ogata

Site: YOLA at HOLA
Years in YOLA: 10
Instrument: Oboe
Attending: Vanguard University
Major: I chose nursing as my major, but I really want to continue playing music in college either minoring or playing in ensembles.

What are you most excited about for college?
I am most excited for making new friends, getting involved on campus either by helping or having fun, and continuing to play because it has become a part of me that I never want to let go and it is something I enjoy doing. It makes me happy that I can make others happy by playing for them, and not only will I be helping cheer others up through music, but also hopefully through the medical field.

What are you enjoying about making music virtually?
What I enjoy about making music virtually is that there are still ways to be able to play with others by using apps to play music with someone else or make a duet with yourself. Even though it’s not the same when in person, at least we have a way to still make it happen.

What is your favorite YOLA memory?
My favorite YOLA memory is when we went to Mexico City. I had never been to Mexico, and I was really grateful that I got the opportunity to go since my mom is from Mexico. It was a new experience for me, and it was even better that we got to play with the conservatory students there. I really enjoyed it and I would definitely go visit again!

What did you learn during your time in YOLA that you are going to take with you?
What I learned from my time in YOLA is that it is okay to get out of your comfort zone a little bit when it comes to something you are not used to. Set a goal for yourself, even if it means you have to step out of your comfort zone. It’s okay if you make mistakes because with perseverance, you’ll get closer and closer to your goal, and even notice some good changes happening because of it.

Fabiola Henryeth Marinero

Site: YOLA at EXPO Center
Years in YOLA: Three and a half
Instrument: Violin
Attending: University of California, Berkeley
Major: Undeclared

What are you most excited about for college?
Heading off to college excites me overall. I’m excited to embark on a new phase in my life, excited to meet bright minds and make new memories; I’m excited for a “fresh” start. Ultimately, I’m most excited about making mistakes, venturing into a new realm and learning from them.

What are you enjoying about making music virtually?
Making music virtually has been a challenge, a fun one nonetheless. Connecting with colleagues has made this process less challenging. Despite the difficulties- planning, and other set up and technical issues- making music virtually is particularly enjoyable because it allowed me to realize the positive impact we can deliver through social media platforms and the internet.

What is your favorite YOLA memory?
My favorite YOLA memory is LA Phil's centennial celebration. Overflowed with excitement, I managed to get three hours of sleep, and before I knew it, my alarm yelled “WAKE UP” at 4 am. I arose to stillness and silence, both inside and outside my house. I got myself ready and out the door by five and headed to EXPO to meet my peers and prepare for our first performance. I took part in most of the performances programmed for the day, so the day was quite hectic. It all began with “Calaverita” as part of the opening ceremony. As we wrapped up, I ran with my performance heels to the next stage to perform with the string quartet and string trio. Already tired, it was time to commute to the next performance over at MacArthur Park with peers. Most of us were tired and trying our best to uphold our optimism under the burning heat of the sun. After exploring the park, playing with the ducks and running until getting a bit sweaty, once again, we commuted to our final stop: the Hollywood Bowl. I napped a bit as I waited for dinner to arrive. We gathered backstage and practiced a bit before transitioning into stage. I found myself growing nervous despite my low energy. I played some cumbia and salsa, and began a small solo dance party that soon my friends joined. We loosened up to the rhythm that reminded me of home, wished each other luck and walked the stage with disguised nerves and bright smiles. Although this day drained me like no other, it remains my favorite memory because I got to explore and have fun with some of my favorite people, while meeting and engaging with other amazing peers as well.

What did you learn during your time in YOLA that you are going to take with you?
Moving to the U.S. made me feel hopeless in pursuing music. I believed it would be nearly impossible to continue playing because access to free music education seemed unattainable. Despite my determination to “assimilate,” I often found myself feeling like a foreigner, and was soon welcomed with open arms. I no longer felt like an outlier, I became part of a whole. I discovered the significance of concepts such as community and support systems, as the program provided me with the tools to grow as a successful musician in spite of family circumstances, and enabled me to find myself in the midst of a culture shock. The rigor of long rehearsals and sectionals instilled the skills of endurance and time management. The challenges presented by the lack of a proper space to practice taught me to be adaptable, to always look for a different angle. YOLA has not only provided me with quality music education, but it has also enabled me to share my love for music within the community, enrich rising generations, and bridge the gap between classical music and low-income communities of color, and inspires me to continue to do so.

Hannah Esquivel

Site: YOLA at EXPO Center
Years in YOLA: Nine
Instrument: Viola
Attending: Eastman School of Music
Major: Viola Performance  

What are you most excited about for college?
I’m very excited to study and pursue music at a higher level. It’s an opportunity that most people where I come from don’t get, and I want to take advantage of every moment of it. 

What are you enjoying about making music virtually?
Personally, I find that it is really difficult for me to make music virtually. However, seeing my peers post videos and making music on social media is very inspirational, and it keeps me motivated to practice and stay consistent with my music. 

What is your favorite YOLA memory?
My absolute favorite YOLA memory is when we performed at the Super Bowl. It was on the exact day of my 15th birthday, and Gustavo Dudamel danced with me backstage since I wasn’t having a quinceañera. It’s a moment that I know I’ll always treasure.  

What did you learn during your time in YOLA that you are going to take with you?
I learned to always be humble and grateful. YOLA has provided many amazing opportunities, so it was sometimes easy for us to get ahead ourselves. Staying humble and grateful is what kept the windows and doors of opportunity open for me. 

Skyler Lee

Site: YOLA at EXPO Center
Years in YOLA: Seven
Instrument: Double Bass
Attending: Eastman School of Music
Major: Double Bass Performance

What are you most excited about for college?
I am most excited about being in a completely new environment with people who share my passion, so that I may grow as both a musician and as a person.

What are you enjoying about making music virtually?
I enjoy the amount of time that I can work on my own personal repertoire and orchestral excerpts to hone my skills.

What is your favorite YOLA memory?
My favorite YOLA memory by far is going to Mexico City with the LA Phil.

What did you learn during your time in YOLA that you are going to take with you?
YOLA gave me the confidence to open up to people through my music.

Gabriela Sigala

Site: YOLA at HOLA
Years in YOLA: ​Six
Instrument: ​Cello
Attending: ​Cal Poly Pomona 
Major: ​Civil Engineering 

What are you most excited about for college?  ​
Making new friends and memories but also learning more about others. 

What are you enjoying about making music virtually?  ​
I enjoy being able to still make memories and play new cello pieces with my friends. We are able to focus more on cello pieces, which are very fun to play. 

What is your favorite YOLA memory?
One of my favorite memories during my time at YOLA was the LA Phil centennial celebration with CicLavia. I performed in front of Walt Disney Concert Hall with many others from other YOLA sites, which was a lot of fun to celebrate with so many others. Watching the city get together was so much fun, and I was able to make lots of memories that day with my close friends. 

What did you learn during your time in YOLA that you are going to take with you?
I learned not to let anything stop me from doing anything and taking risks. I have been able to accomplish so many things that I never would have imagined by putting in all my effort. I have pushed myself in music so much and have been able to do things from performing at The Forum, but I believed in myself and had many others’ support along the way.