My name is Alex Pualani and I am a teaching artist at YAMA. I began the cello at age 10 in the Yakima School District at Martin Luther King Elementary School. I remember going to the gym on instrument trial day and picking my top 5 instruments.
Instruments were passed out alphabetically, so by the time they reached my name my only option left was the cello. This turned out to be for the best.
I loved every moment behind my instrument.
My teacher was a cellist with the Yakima Symphony Orchestra and was incredibly attentive to my hunger to learn more. Mrs. Baisinger would give me lessons if I stayed after class and helped her clean up the room, or organize music. In middle school she came to my house to pick me up to take me to Davis High School so that I could play with the older kids during zero period. Orchestra was the most exciting time of my day. When there was a drive-by at my middle school and my parents pulled me out to home school me for the remainder of the year, I still came to school to play with the orchestra every class meeting. Without such a dedicated teacher, I know music wouldn’t play such a large role in my life.
One of my best friends picked up the cello as well. We played together through most of high school, but eventually he had to cut some of his activities, and orchestra had to go. His parents had purchased him a great cello that would no longer be of use, so they lent it to me.
When a music-hungry kids gets a great sounding instrument, it’s like throwing gas on a fire!
That act of kindness by Mike and Kay Funk, giving me a cello, made possible a future of performing and teaching music and I am so happy that I am now able to effect the next generation of Yakima Musicians
I feel a very strong connection with my students in Yakima Music en Acción (YAMA). Not just because we play music together five days a week, or because they laugh at all of my music jokes, but because I am from where they are from. Many of the same struggles they have felt, I have felt. I have lived in the same neighborhoods and gone to the same schools as YAMA students, and I am so excited about what we have created together.
On any given day in the Garfield neighborhood where YAMA is housed, you could hear the sounds of a pick-up soccer match, police sirens, children’s laughter, gunshots, lock-down announcements, and reverberating from the gym - a Mozart symphony.
YAMA is shining a light, focused on what Yakima could be. A place where students and families feel safe. A place where the emphasis is on creation and sharing those creations. A place that everyone can be proud of; members, families, and the greater community alike.
Our YAMA students fight every day to be heard above the violence present in our neighborhoods, the poverty all around us, and the voices of those that doubt the power of music. Every day the music grows stronger, the community grows stronger, and we turn down the volume on the many “distractions” that plague us.
The YAMA staff is made up of a diverse group of Teaching Artists who are constantly and feverishly innovating in the classroom and beyond to best serve our YAMA families. Through the staff and our partners, students have access to a world that used to be reserved for only the select few.
We currently serve over 60 students with 10+ hours of high quality music instruction a week. Through music, YAMA Teaching Artists like me help to instill qualities that will make all of our students successful in the future; confidence, risk-taking, communication, conflict resolution, leadership, public-speaking, and so much more.