Self-driven. Committed to excellence. Igniters. This describes the nine African-American high school instrumentalists who approached Charles Dickerson in June 2009 asking that he work with them on orchestral repertoire. By summer’s end, they’d expanded to 24 players and learned enough music to present a recital.
Afterward, the teens were hooked, playing weddings and other events, including a pivotal performance as part of the unveiling ceremonies for the MLK Memorial on the National Mall. This experience transformed the group into the non-profit Inner City Youth Orchestra of Los Angeles (ICYOLA).
Eleven years, many concerts, free music classes and fellowships later, the orchestra lives on, and Founder/Executive Director/Conductor Charles Dickerson is still mining the musical and academic potential of inner city L.A. youth.
“We know that what we do uplifts the young people of our community. By teaching [them] the great music of the world and providing them opportunities to perform that music on the most magnificent settings of our city, we prepare them for advanced study and high caliber success in music and other disciplines,” says Dickerson.
“We instill the ancillary benefits that high quality music instruction provides: problem-solving skills, critical thinking, self-reliance, self-confidence, self-discipline, and the crystallization and pursuit of meaningful purpose.”
ICYOLA prides itself on accommodating its members at no charge and fostering what Dickerson calls “a culture of family,” where the more proficient players teach the less experienced, and competition does not factor in.
The core group ranges from 12-25 years of age, although they’ve taken as young as 10. Formal rehearsals are held weekly for two hours, but members are often so dedicated that most rehearse for a weekly total of 10-15 hours.
That work ethic benefits the youth in other areas of life. “Ninety-nine percent of our members go to college,” Dickerson says proudly. “Our members are the finest young people in the nation.”
This particular week of rehearsing will culminate in a performance at the Walt Disney Concert Hall for their 14th Annual Season Finale Concert on Sunday, July 10. As the 3 p.m. show is sold out, a second has been added at 7:30 p.m.
ICYOLA’s 2022 Season Finale will showcase an ambitious program of musical works ranging from “Lift Every Voice and Sing” to Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata” with original musical tributes to Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson, the people of Ukraine and those killed by violence since the last Finale concert.
Another highlight will be the orchestra’s “Tribute to Marvin Gaye,” featuring the legend’s hits like “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” and “What’s Going On,” along with dance accompaniment from the Debbie Allen Dance Academy.
“Our concert season is always entirely free except for our Season Finale. But this year, we’re offering tickets to the community without charge in recognition of the support [we’ve received] over the years, and particularly during the siege of the COVID pandemic,” said Dickerson, who would like to expand the teaching of the principles espoused in the orchestra to all young people in African-American and Latino communities.
“My personal mantra is that there needs to be an inner city youth orchestra program in every city where there is an NFL team. If we can help lift our young people to a higher level of success in life, our living shall not be in vain.”
Reserve tickets or make a donation at icyola.org/seasonfinale/.