Saturday, May 28, 2022

Four Young Musicians are Gonna Kick Butt and Take Names

*The Inner City Youth Orchestra of Los Angeles (ICYOLA) has teamed up with the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra (LACO) and USC’s Thornton School of music to give four young musicians the opportunity of a lifetime.

They are going to groom them, during a very intensive two-year program, at a cost of $140K per student, very generously funded by the Andrew Mellon Foundation, to be able to win an audition and ultimately a seat in an American orchestra.

The Los Angeles Orchestra Fellowship is a comprehensive post-graduate program designed to increase diversity in American orchestras.  In a phone interview with ICYOLA Founder and Executive Director Charles Dickerson, I learned that although African-Americans compromise 13% of the American population, we represent only 1.8% of those in American orchestras.  Latinos fair minimally better, making up 2.5%, while also representing 13% of the American population.  Mr. Dickerson explained the numbers are low because African Americans, Latinos and Native Americans do not do well in auditions.  The fellowship was created to address the inequity in the numbers by better preparing the fellows for auditions.

ICYOLA - charles dickerson
ICYOLA Founder Charles Dickerson Photo credit: Inner City Youth Orchestra of Los Angeles

The Los Angeles Orchestra Fellowship Program is being led by ICYOLA, and is the only program of its’ kind being predominantly led by an African American organization.  Mr. Dickerson shared that ICYOLA approached the Andrew Mellon Foundation with the fellowship proposal.  Although the Mellon Foundation liked the idea, they told him that he needed to partner up with a larger organization and partner up he did.  ICYOLA teamed with LACO and USC’s Thornton School of Music to launch a three-tiered approach: education (USC), practical experience (LACO) and mentoring (ICYOLA).

In order to be accepted into the program, the applicants had to be a college graduate and have a subsequent audition.  Thirty people auditioned for the inaugural Los Angeles Orchestra Fellowship Program and Mr. Dickerson is extremely pleased with the four individuals selected.

Mr. Dickerson, with his legal background (attorney), his former position as the conductor of the Southeast Symphony, his current position as Musical Director of Rolling Hills United Methodist Church, as well as his other achievements, makes him and ICYOLA immensely qualified to undertake the Los Angeles Orchestra Fellowship Program project.

In addition to interviewing Charles Dickerson, I also spent some time interviewing Boston born violinist Sydney Adedamola and Houston born violist Bradley Parrimore, the two African American fellows, who both shared how very excited they are to be a part of the Los Angeles Orchestra Fellowship Program.

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ICYOLA - Sydney Adedamola
Sydney Adedamola  Photo credit:  Ben Gibbs

Sydney Adedamola has been playing the violin since she was three old.  When asked how she chose her instrument, she said she did not actually choose it, it was given to her.  Her parents wanted her to play.  Her mother, inspired by a Japanese tiger book and wanting her daughter to be successful, decided she would play the violin.  Sydney did not have a problem acquiescing, because she found that she loved to play.

Sydney, who is a recent graduate of USC’s Thornton School of Music with a Bachelors in Music – Violin Performance, was told about the program from one of her music teachers, who felt the program would be good for her.  Sydney had been toying with the idea of the Master’s Program, but decided to pursue the fellowship program instead.  Speaking of teachers, Sydney had absolutely no problem giving Bonnie Black, her mentor/teacher from age 7/8 through high school the credit for shaping and molding her into the musician she is today.  She praised Ms. Black highly and shared that she helped her to keep things in perspective and kept her from feeling as though things were getting stale.  Realizing Sydney was lucky to have such a mentor as Barbara Black, I asked if she feels young and emerging musicians have enough access to mentors.  She believes, “It depends on many factors.”  She continued, “Although I was lucky enough to have Barbara Black, not everyone has that happen to them.  Finding the right mentor is hard.”  Finding an African American mentor will be even harder, because according to Mr. Dickerson, the number of African Americans, Latinos and Native Americans in conservatories is even less than those in the orchestras.

Sydney feels schools should do more to introduce students to classical music and that children should go to see classical music concerts.  She shared that she saw a classical music concert in action and decided she wanted to perform.  She also shared while at a New England Prep School, where everyone was so academically focused, she was more musically focus, so when it was time for college, she chose a music school.  Something tells me this young lady was both academically and musically focused; after all, she did get into USC, which is no easy feat.

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ICYOLA - Bradley Parrimore
Bradley Parrimore  Photo credit:  Ben Gibbs

Houstonian Bradley Parrimore has already received international acclaim as a chamber musician and soloist and has won several top prizes in competitions.  Like Sydney, he too found out about the program from an instructor.  Bradley started off playing the violin, but switched to the viola during the latter stages of high school when the viola, being larger, better accommodated his growing body.

The decision to become a professional classical musician was more an organic than conscience choice for the Manhattan School of Music graduate.  He shared at age eight, his mother told him he could not quit, so soldier on he did.  He is hoping being a participant in the Los Angeles Orchestra Fellowship Program will help him secure a place in an orchestra, commenting, “It is getting increasingly harder in classical music and this is the most stable position.”

Bradley feels being exposed to classical music has taught him how to focus and work with others, adding, “You have to be more aware of what you do.”  When the subject of mentors was broached, Bradley was quick to credit all of his teachers/mentors, saying he could not choose just one because they all contributed in some way to shape him into the musician he is today. Growing up in Houston and being so close to Rice University, he feels fortunate to have had access to teachers/mentors, but feels young and emerging artists do not have enough access to teachers/mentors.

ICYOLA - Sydney Adedamola and Bradley Parrimore
Sydney Adedamola and Bradley Parrimore Photo credit:  Ben Gibbs

I asked both Sydney and Bradley who they are as artists and they had similar responses, Sydney saying, “You are always trying to figure that out.  You never reach a point where you say you are good.  As a classical musician, you are always evolving.”  Bradley responded with, “That is always changing.  I am still searching for who I am as an artist.”  They had vastly different responses when asked how they will know that they have made it.  Sydney feels she has made it whenever she performs, while Bradley said he is, “Never satisfied” adding, “There are always hurdles to cross.  I don’t think I’ll ever believe I have made it.”

My final question to both of these brilliant young people was what they hoped to contribute to the world as an artist.  Sydney wants to be, “Able to touch someone and make someone feel something with my performance.”  Bradley wants to, “Be recognized for serving the art form to the highest.” Not bad goals at all and I applaud and appreciate ICYOLA, LACO and USC for giving them opportunity to pursue their dream.

I look forward to following the careers of these two talented young people and wish them nothing but peace, love and light.  May the force, ICYOLA, LACO and USC’s Thornton School of Music be with them.

marilyn smith
Marilyn Smith

Marilyn Smith is a Los Angeles based writer/reviewer.  Contact her via [email protected].

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