A capacity crowd attended the ICYOLA concert. (Courtesy photo)


The distinguished Inner City Youth Orchestra of Los Angeles (ICYOLA), in keeping with its founding mission to promote arts and education among inner-city youth, performed a special concert in honor of Black History Month at Los Angeles Trade-Technical College (LATTC), Saturday, Feb. 24.

The musical tribute, conducted by ICYOLA founder and executive director Charles Dickerson, and presided over by newly minted college president Dr. Alfred McQuarters, was offered to the public with free admission, in LATTC’s award-winning LEED Gold-certified Culinary Arts and Dining Facility.

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Appropriately, given the occasion, the room was awash with light, the ceilings were high, the audience was diverse, and the sounds were soaring. Emotions were presumably comparable as the 65-piece orchestra and choir journeyed musically from the historic National Anthem, “The Star-Spangled Banner” by Francis Scott Key to Amanda Gorman’s “The Hill We Climb,” set to music by Dickerson.

In between, stirring renditions of the Black National Anthem, “Lift Every Voice and Sing” by Roland Carter, Samuel Ward’s setting of Katherine Lee Bates’ poem “America, the Beautiful” and “We Shall Overcome” –also set to music by Dickerson — kept attendees riveted, particularly during the final gospel song when audience participation was requested.

Charles Dickerson (File photo)

“This is a unique American celebration, Black History Month, so I think of it as being somewhat patriotic…like when we celebrate President’s Day or Martin Luther King’s birthday,” said Dickerson.

“So, we specifically tried to program music that celebrates compositions by African Americans, or that celebrates the themes of Black history, uplifting people of color, where there particularly has been a deficit in doing so.”

Also unique, it seems, is an orchestral offering of this kind in celebration of Black History Month on LATTC’s campus.

“I don’t know of any other concert or presentation quite like this at any of the nine colleges in the Los Angeles Community College District,” said Dickerson.

“There is much excitement about the opportunity for there to be similar kinds of programs on other campuses of the Los Angeles Community College District for next year.”

Given ICYOLA’s mission, it would seem a natural progression, as education drives all that the organization does, and it is why Dickerson sets poetry to music.

“I think that one of the best ways for people to learn poetry is to have the lyrics set to a tune and to learn it by singing it,” said Dickerson.

“And an example of this is…many of us learn our alphabet by singing. We teach this to young kids…Words that they had not sung before, they may have read or repeated here and there, but by being able to sing those words, that text, hopefully, it helps them to learn that text a little bit more deeply. And that’s certainly the case with ‘The Hill We Climb.’ So what I’ve done is sought to memorialize, lift up the texts of these important writings by African American poets and authors, so that those words can be more widely disseminated, learned and cherished.”

(Courtesy photo)

This is one of many ways ICYOLA and its founder are demonstrating their commitment to education. Additionally, as Black History Month wraps and March rolls in, a new initiative will find the organization offering lessons to youth ages 7-12 as part of a Strings Program. Materials, and if needed instruments, will be supplied at no cost. March 3 marks the kickoff of this new program.

“We think it will be an extremely valuable musical experience,” Dickerson said. “We encourage those interested to come and participate, and to find out more about it, just call the office.”