It's A Small World After All For A Nation Of Young Musicians Converging On Walt Disney Concert Hall

The 140 students came to Soka University of America in Aliso Viejo for 10 days. They come from 39 cities and 19 states. (Photo by Carla Javier/KPCC)

The second National Take A Stand Festival is underway in Southern California. With it, the LA Phil brings 140 musicians between the ages of 12 and 18 from 19 states to the area to work and learn and play together. It all culminates in a performance at the Walt Disney Concert Hall tomorrow, July 14.

"That's an opportunity that 500 other students who auditioned would love to have," LA Phil Associate Director for Social Innovation Phil Bravo told KPCC/LAist. "But they're the students that have that opportunity because they worked hard, and they earned their place here."

Dudamel benefited from a Venezuelan music education program called El Sistema when he was young. The programs that the Take A Stand participants attend back home are either based on or similar to El Sistema.

"This is actually my first time performing with Gustavo Dudamel," said 14-year-old percussionist John Sunderman. "So I'm personally very excited to see that. Hopefully I don't mess up."

We asked instructors, students, and a staff member from the LA Phil about what this experience - and the opportunities it comes with - means to them. Their answers have been edited and condensed for clarity.

John Sunderman, participant

14-year-old Sunderman is a percussionist from Temple City.

You get to meet people from all around the nation ... You all share one thing. And if you're a real music nerd, you can talk about any composer, any song and then they'll know. They'll get you. And then it doesn't matter if you speak a different language, or if you look different. You all play together. And it sounds beautiful.

TJ Malone, participant

Malone is 17 and plays the violin. He comes to Take A Stand from Tulsa, Oklahoma. He emphasized why the final performance in particular is such a big deal.

Not only is it the Walt Disney Concert Hall, which is like the Carnegie Hall of the West Coast, but it's our grand performance. It's the time when we all just, like, magically figure out our pieces (laughs)

Lecolion Washington, executive director, Community Music Center of Boston

Washington said as instructors, he and his colleagues are "committed to doing whatever it takes" to maximize the students' experiences, including replacing strings, fixing loose screws on instruments, and sitting down with students to work on their rhythm.

There are going to be a lot of people there from all over the world for that concert. And I know that a lot of the students are used to playing for mom and dad, and parents, and neighborhood folks and all of that. And so to be on this kind of stage and have this platform to show their talents, I think, is special.

Jennifer Floyd, director of orchestras, McEachern High

Floyd is also a faculty member for the 10-day-long festival. Since they arrived last Thursday, she and the students have been working together "non-stop," including morning rehearsals, chamber rehearsals, instrumental rehearsals, and rehearsals for the whole group. She said the students made her feel welcome, and almost moved her to tears.

I remember myself, I started on piano and violin and there was no one in my neighborhood doing that. And that gave me the opportunity where I am now, to see the world. And I hope that people understand that these students are not just ordinary kids. They are kids who may come from broken background, or just really rough situations and music is their catalyst. That is their thing that gets them through the day. That gets them through life. That gets them to see outside of where they live ... It's a beautiful thing.

Phil Bravo, Associate Director of Social Innovation, LA Phil

I think that the LA Phil has decided that they have a responsibility to the future of the orchestra, and that they have the opportunity to make a change in the future of the field. There are young people right now rehearsing eight hours a day, who have the potential to be the future of the American orchestral field. But without someone who is willing to invest in them, that won't happen.


You can hear more - including sound of the students rehearsing - in the radio version of this story, which aired on KPCC's The Frame.