I’m running out of time. After six months of preparation in a cavernous hall near Six and Rampart, the big concert is less than a week away. Monday will be the final rehearsal for an orchestra unlike any other in California.
A 76-year-old clarinetist drove up from Camarillo. A 14-year-old violinist living near LAX was driven by her mother.
They took their seats with more than 70 other band members, some arriving on foot, by bus, by bicycle or by scooter. A 48-year-old doctor who works at Skid Row, which was set up near a shy junior high school student. A retired theater director, 74, has replaced three high school percussionists in the nearby double bass section.
They came across the spectrum of ethnicity, age and income, and were brimming with pride when Maestro Daniel Suk took the podium. It wasn’t just because of the musical growth we witnessed from the orchestra, which was set up to reflect the many faces of Ross. Angeles, but because of the bonds formed between the performers and what they represent.
Suk raised his baton and the Heart of Los Angeles (HOLA) Eisner Intergenerational Orchestra took off with a bang, running through works by Puccini, Verdi, Rossini and Bizet.
Thanks to an invitation from Tony Brown, chief executive of HOLA, a non-profit organization that offers free after-school programs in academics, athletics and the arts as part of its mission to remove barriers to opportunity, I was fortunate enough to I was able to sit in the front row.
California is about to hit an aging wave, and Steve Lopez is riding it. His column focuses on the benefits and burdens of aging and how some people are challenging prejudices against older people.
Brown has long wanted to develop programs that bridge cultural and generational gaps and create a deeper sense of community. At one point he traveled to see an intergenerational orchestra in New Jersey with Trent Stamp of the Eisner Foundation.
“So I asked Tony if we could fund a group like that in this city,” Mr Stamp said.
Brown agreed with all. He is naturally inclined to see the city as a place of hope, eager to make the most of its potential in the face of deep-seated economic and social challenges.
“We get strength from the people we’re with,” he said of both HOLA’s mission and soul during rehearsals one night.
Mr. Brown approached Mr. Suk, an accomplished conductor, artistic director and opera singer, and the search for musicians began. Among them were HOLA music teachers and current and former students. Players had varying degrees of training and skill, but the potential for growth was created by more advanced musicians mentoring less experienced musicians, regardless of age.
It’s a model of collaboration that could benefit our aging world. Younger generations will be relied upon to help solve the housing and medical challenges faced by their parents and grandparents. Older people can avoid the withering effects of isolation, stay active and engaged, and find purpose in mentoring and learning from young people.
Seok, 50, believed from the beginning that the orchestra had multiple missions.
“We are in absolute danger,” he said. “I have seen seniors who are very lonely and younger generations who have nothing to do with them.
After months of planning, the pandemic delayed that dream. But the orchestra finally got together in the summer of 2021 to practice, grow and start playing. HOLA has since expanded the concept and launched a jazz band and choir.
At choir rehearsal, I met 13-year-old Katie Martinez. She told us an interesting story about how she got into the choir.
“I came here as a volunteer as a stagehand and I liked the sound of the music,” said the junior high school student, adding that she was inspired by the older members of the orchestra. “They may be doing other things, but they come here.”
Choir member Janet Clayton, public relations consultant, former editor of the Los Angeles Times, and a colleague of mine, told me that she and the young singer were discussing their favorite book, Working. . But they soon realized they weren’t exactly the same idea. Clayton was talking about the Studs Turkel classic, and her companion was talking about a graphic novel adaptation of it. Neither of them knew of the other’s existence until they shared the notes.
“When you meet people in a cross-generational setting, you have these conversations,” says Clayton.
At one orchestra rehearsal, MaryJane Puffer said she was a little apprehensive about paying the saxophone because she hadn’t played it in decades.
“I had to relearn how to play,” she said. “But the kids were like, ‘Don’t worry, girl, it’ll be better next time.'” That’s great. very. “
“It’s a bond you can’t experience anywhere else,” said Oscar Cuellar, 19.
Suk uses a group communication app to help members stay in touch with himself and others. Cellist Benton Preciado, 33, said his use of apps and social media has turned a rehearsal hall into a classroom.
“Younger members tell older members, ‘Here’s how to download the app. This is how your posts will look,'” Preciado said.
Middle-aged violist Michael Kim said that in an orchestra, focus only on your part: serving everyone around you.
“We’re connected on a musician level, so age is kind of irrelevant,” he said.
Violinist Gerson Gardames, 27, said he was a little nervous at first in a room full of strangers. But over time, the players who rehearsed once a week connected for decades, and conversations that started during one rehearsal carried over to the next.
He looked with a trained eye, having graduated from the University of Southern California with a doctorate in gerontology. When asked how he started on this path, Gardamez said he grew up in Compton with a large family living under one roof, including older people who sometimes needed help. said to have been included. He would occasionally pick up a violin and accompany his mother, a hospice nurse, on nursing home visits, where he would play for patients. He now works as a policy adviser and has an interest in changing society’s attitudes towards older people and older people.
“Art is the way to do that,” said Gardames, calling the orchestra “a canvas for connection.”
On Saturday, five days after the season-ending Opera Gala Spectacular, I entered the building with 14-year-old violinist Maya Miguel Hernandez as the orchestra assembled for its final rehearsal. She confessed that she was shy.
“I don’t talk much, but the people I do talk to are very nice. Once, someone gave me a tip, and I really appreciate it,” she said.
Violinist Tommy Fenn, also 14, said he hasn’t given up on pop music. He mixes Harry Styles and Shawn Mendes with Puccini and Verdi.
“Playing with the older and more experienced players in the orchestra made me play much better,” Fenn said.
Steve Hauser, 76, said he wasn’t up to par when he entered the clarinet section.
“Amy was 11 and on my right side. Brenda was 17 on my left and both were a step or two above him,” Hauser said. A former lawyer joked that if it weren’t for the fact that he was on the board of HOLA, he would have been kicked out of the orchestra.
In the final adjustments, Seok conducted the orchestra through music such as “Aida,” “Carmen,” and the “William Tell” overture. Guest opera singers took turns with the orchestra, discerning timing, expression and theatrics.
After about two and a half hours, Seok praised and thanked the orchestra, ending the rehearsal. From the bass section, however, Louis Fantasia, a writer and theater director in his 70s, suggested continuing for a few more minutes to strengthen the loose connection, which he did.
“We are different, we can have different backgrounds and cultural histories,” Fantasia told me before. “But we can come together as a unit. I think that’s the symbolic strength of this ensemble.”
that’s amen. In an age of petty divisions and ugly speech, this is a place where there is no fear or criticism, where 100+ year old music is a force of unity and healing.
The public will never hear this music, but what matters is that it exists, that HOLA exists, that musicians come forward and talk about finding common ground in their quest for something beautiful, Being able to inject the spirit of possibility into others.