L.A. youth learn of music, life with young maestro

Wed Dec 10, 2008 1:06pm EST
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By Mary Milliken

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - As Gustavo Dudamel tried to coax more force from children playing Beethoven, the young Venezuelan conductor resorted to an original tool: his hair.

"Do you remember the hair movement? It is very important!" Dudamel told the kids from rough South Los Angeles, his head of thick, springy curls bobbing to make the point.

Who knew a classical music rehearsal could be so much fun?

Well, anyone who has worked with the 27-year-old Dudamel. He is the toast of the classical music world and is preparing to take over one of the world's top orchestras, the Los Angeles Philharmonic, in 2009. A big part of his new job will be working with inner-city youth.

With Dudamel, the LA Phil not only gets a highly acclaimed conductor. It also gets the experience of someone raised in "El Sistema" -- Venezuela's much lauded music school network that has helped thousands of children steer clear of violence and drugs in underprivileged neighborhoods.

As the LA Phil began to court Dudamel two years ago, President Deborah Borda went to Venezuela to study El Sistema and see how it could be applied in the second largest U.S. city, a place of great wealth and also rampant gang violence.

Even though El Sistema now has 300,000 children in its schools, Borda said she was encouraged to start small. The LA Phil plans to create three to five youth orchestras under Dudamel's tutelage.

The maiden project, the EXPO Center Youth Orchestra, met him last weekend for the first time. The mostly African American and Hispanic children have signed a contract to take care of their free instruments, practice, and attend lessons.   Continued...

<p>Venezuelan conductor Gustavo Dudamel teaches children at Youth Orchestra L.A., the Los Angeles Philharmonic's effort to establish youth orchestras in underserved areas of the city, in Los Angeles, December 6, 2008. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson</p>