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Beauty Begins the Moment you Decide to Be Yourself

YAMA Program

Philarmonia at Benaroya Hall in Seattle

YAMA has been a huge part of my life and has introduced me to one of my closest friends. In YAMA I’ve learned to be comfortable in my own skin. YAMA Philharmonia has recently had the opportunity to go to Seattle to meet and work with incredible musicians. Not only were we able to grow in our skill, we grew closer together. I felt myself become vulnerable during the trip and embrace my identity more. And that’s the thing about music, it has the ability to help you find a piece of yourself. It has the ability to create peace.

I am a person who is very insecure and has found myself at one point being very insecure in not only my appearance but in my playing. In this season of my life I would have the ugliest feelings when I heard myself play; I would cry and feel so ashamed and think about the girl who was in love with music. But I realized something: I have nothing to be ashamed of because my friends and mentors were lending me their support. And I felt the love of music again in the YAMA trip this spring. I felt all of my YAMA family come closer, learn more about each other, specifically at the end of the first night of the trip we all played, laughed and just truly felt like a family.

The Seattle trip definitely helped me gain different techniques in my playing that I now use daily. When we had clinics from various incredible musicians I was really intimidated from the feedback I would hear. But after a while with hanging out with them I felt a change in my playing ability.

I became more comfortable in how I sounded. And you could definitely hear everyone be more comfortable and just give their all in the songs. Music not only unites us but helps us feel more comfortable. Unity is so important. And I’m so grateful that I am able to share the same love of music with people my age.

Florinta Lopez (‘cellist, 8th grade) is in her fourth year of YAMA. “YAMA truly is a special program and an amazing blessing in my life,” she shared, “It has helped me grow so much in my musical ability and has helped me become stronger and more confident.”

Student Reflection

YAMA Program

In June of 2016, three of our leadership students were flown to Aspen, CO, to participate in the regional National Take A Stand Festival, an initiative of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Bard College, and the Longy School of Music. All accepted students passed a rigorous audition and application process. Once in Colorado, they worked with some of the best teachers in the US and met students from around the country. Here is one student's reflection of her experience.

Enerida Mendoza, Daniela Vazquez, and Nataly Mendoza as they prepare to leave on their adventure.

Enerida Mendoza, Daniela Vazquez, and Nataly Mendoza as they prepare to leave on their adventure.

My name is Daniela. Going to Aspen was an amazing experience for me. I had the opportunity to get an idea of what it could be when I grow up and keep playing the cello. At first it was scary because I didn't know anyone but then I got to know them and they were really nice. The first thing we did when we got there was to eat and then move in. My roommates and I started talking and it wasn't so bad. There names were Gabriela and Samantha. Gabriela plays the cello and Samantha plays the bass. The next day when we started playing and went to the Aspen Music School they said that some of the rooms we were going to be working in were new. Hearing that some of the rooms were new felt cool because we were going to be the first ones to use them. Playing was a little hard because it was going faster than what we expected it to be. But it was still really fun. By the time for that concert I could play it a little better because it was still going really fast I got to learn a lot of new techniques like when you audition for programs like that you have to practice really fast and really slow because you don't know how fast or slow it's going. So it can be hard to catch up to speed. I also learned that if you want to speed up you play it slow and short so that then you can just remove the gaps and play it faster.
Other than the really fast parts it was really fun making new friend from all over and getting to play with them and know them more was really fun. And knowing that out of many people you were chosen was special. And at the end I didn't want to leave. 

Taking in the natural beauty of Colorado

Taking in the natural beauty of Colorado

Our Program Values

YAMA Program

. . . a living document . . .

(first draft by Jen Moultine, April 2016)


“I believe that 80% of what we teach is who we are.” 

--Eric Booth, The Teaching Artist’s Bible



We at YAMA have been trying to hone in on why YAMA is what it is, and what makes it that way. A YAMA Board member recently made the observation that none of us (the Teaching Artists, or TAs) are teaching in the way we were trained. We are striving for more, reaching for a different culture. This requires an ongoing process of discussion, introspection, observation, experimentation, and meeting our students where they are while helping them to reach for the next level in their musical ability and self-awareness. Lucky for us, though, we share the ultimate goal of making beautiful music and having fun as we navigate through these unknown waters; this is our glue.


Some of the things we have talked about as a team are fairly easy to list out, and yet are so uniquely adapted by each of us. This is one of the benefits of having such a small team. We are able to communicate, to take the time to collaborate, and yet we are also able to do what we feel is best in our own lessons. There is no one telling us what to teach when, which for so many teachers these days is a rare blessing. The other edge of that blade is the big challenge to consistently co-create a culture and curriculum that doesn’t yet exist on paper. This is the big magic of what we get to do together.

That said, let me attempt to map out some of our shared core values as a program:

·      We are a learning organization. Constant, ongoing learning is the impetus for what we do. This may seem somewhat obvious on the surface when we think about this in relation to the students. But if we look more closely, this learning goes much deeper. Not only are we striving to create learning experiences for the students everyday, we are also always looking for ways to engage more parts of them – their musical technique and expression, their hearts, their intellect and curiosity, their humanity, their interpersonal selves, their growing ability for personal reflection, and so on. With this in mind, our role as teachers can be one of creating shared expectations and structure, or a framework, within which the students are able to explore, experience, take risks, learn, and grow.

First year violinists practicing notation

First year violinists practicing notation


But THEN we can zoom out and say the same for the teachers. All of the items I listed for student growth can be translated right over to our TAs – on a different level and through a different lens, perhaps, but the same nonetheless. We are all striving to grow and get better at what we do all the time. We have days of wild success in our lessons, and days where we experiment with a new idea and it is an obvious ‘no’ for fit and relevance. And then we share these things with each other. We also ask each other for help and ideas and brainstorming time and a listening ear. This is where I feel our team is so special – we don’t let our egos get in the way of our growth, and we never pretend to know it all. Not even close. This leaves room for a whole lot of creative potential, and allows us to take risks as teachers, which is a really great way to grow and expand our box of teaching tools and color pallet of artistic inspiration. We strive for this growth in our teaching as well as our performance. If we lose touch with ourselves as performers then our teaching becomes flat and lifeless. We have to stoke our own fires to have any to share.


·      Respect is key. Respect is the cornerstone of how we do what we do at YAMA. This translates into professional respect as well as respect for our students. This means we strive to appeal to our students’ intrinsic motivation and do not rely on punitive measures for learning outcomes. This takes constant mindfulness, since most of us were taught in ways that involved shaming and punishment as means for motivation. The students are also expected to be respectful – of themselves and others, of their instruments and the space we are so graciously allowed to use. The big one that comes up most often for me in my teaching, and can be the most helpful to go back to in times of distraction/chaos, is the expectation that we all respect everyone’s right to learn as well as the teacher’s right to teach. This means that we do not interrupt, we do not play when the teachers are talking, and we do not make fun of others.


Rehearsal Agreements for YAMA Students and Teachers:

♬ Be safe, on time, and ready to learn

♬ Bring all materials

♬ Respect yourself: Always try your best

♬ Respect the teachers’ right to teach, respect the students’ right to learn

♬ Respect all instruments and propert


Another aspect of respect involves accountability. We hold each other accountable, and hope our students hold us accountable, as teachers.  We also hold our students accountable to their commitment to being a part of YAMA and all that entails. As a result, the students are able to hold each other accountable to their responsibilities to the group, which is a really great kind of peer pressure. This is a powerful life lesson to learn, and can feed a personal and communal a sense of safety, belonging, responsibility and purpose.

YAMA Leadership Students and Teaching Artists performing side by side: Mutual Respect en Acción.

YAMA Leadership Students and Teaching Artists performing side by side: Mutual Respect en Acción.

·      We are creating space for these future leaders to come into themselves. This is a big one for us, and the reason we do all the hard work that we do to not perpetuate a more classical model of education. Students do not learn to lead when they just sit and follow directions all the time. This requires a very dynamic balance, which we are all still seeking to find – allowing for leadership among our students while still maintaining the atmosphere that we need in order to make really good music. Some ways we do this are in peer teaching, choosing group leaders for certain lessons, choosing teacher helpers, offering auditions for more advanced musical opportunities, giving every student a chance to sit in the leader chair to practice counting, cueing, and ownership, and giving students the chance to play on their own or in small groups for the larger group as much as possible. (Here is some of that “safe risk-taking.” I shied away from the last one for a long while, because I was a very timid player growing up. But I have found that if I present the opportunity to play alone in a fun way, congratulate the students for being brave and sharing - I learned this one from Mrs. Humphrey - and have them do it a LOT, it takes some of the terror out of it. I wish I had had more opportunity to let my voice b heard when I was younger because it might have saved me a lot of years of performance anxiety.)


Moises, one of the Chamber Orchestra violists, teaching some of the Preludio students.

Moises, one of the Chamber Orchestra violists, teaching some of the Preludio students.

  • We strive for fun AND high standards. We are a young program, and we have a long way to go before we achieve the caliber we desire to reach. We have faced many challenges, like any start-up program, with finances, staffing, and community support. Yet we forge ahead and keep improving. We are aware that it does our students no favors to expect less than excellence from them. Many of these kids are already talking about one day being music teachers and performers, and even coming to work at YAMA. We owe them a good set-up and a fighting chance to succeed. We try to combine this rigor and discipline with fun. This challenge brings a lot of creative thinking our pedagogy, which is ever-evolving. Games, stories and images, listening opportunities, movement, exposure to really high caliber artists, variety in lessons . . . we are always looking for new ways to keep things alive. In fact, if you feel compelled to share any of your favorite teaching tools, we would love to hear about them!


As we grow and mature as a program, our values will continue to be defined and to define us more clearly. This is but the beginning, and, oh what fun we are having!