Colburn Advances Partnership with the Inner City Youth Orchestra of Los Angeles (ICYOLA)

ICYOLA on Walt Disney Concert Hall stage

Violist Solomon Leonard shares his experiences with ICYOLA and the Community School as a scholarship recipient through Colburn’s expanded partnership with the orchestra.

Last fall, Colburn and the Inner City Youth Orchestra of Los Angeles (ICYOLA) announced a new multi-faceted partnership. The largest majority Black orchestra in the US, ICYOLA has been a leader in working towards equity, diversity, and inclusion in the performing arts through its academy and orchestral programs serving students primarily in South Los Angeles. Colburn will work with ICYOLA to help address structural barriers to quality arts education, and support ICYOLA musicians with access to Colburn training opportunities.

Solomon Leonard
The Colburn School has been a huge part of [my] development. Solomon Leonard, viola

Beginning in the fall of 2020, Colburn offered direct scholarship support to ICYOLA students, enabling them to study in the Community School. These artists were placed with renowned faculty for private instruction that supplemented their orchestral experience with ICYOLA. One scholarship recipient, Solomon Leonard, shared in an interview that “the Colburn School has been a huge part of [my] development.” Solomon, who studies viola with Dr. Minor Wetzel, took music theory and was in a string trio in the Ed and Mari Edelman Chamber Music Institute during his junior year.

As part of the partnership, several additional ICYOLA musicians had the opportunity to take weekly online lessons with Colburn Conservatory students. In total, nine Conservatory students taught weekly online lessons to eighteen ICYOLA musicians ranging in age from middle school to high school. Before the ICYOLA partnership, Conservatory student teachers worked primarily with younger Jumpstart students in elementary school on foundational instrumental skills.  The ICYOLA students are older, so Conservatory students get to practice using different pedagogical methods when they work with the students. In addition to applying pedagogical training, Conservatory students serve as mentors to students closer in age and help them prepare more advanced repertoire.

While at Colburn, Solomon advanced his musical knowledge and developed the skills necessary for his next steps in music. “When I started working with [Dr. Wetzel] in 2017, I was still a very inexperienced player.… He built me up slowly…and now I’m able to play very intense pieces for the viola,” he described. “I have absolutely loved learning pieces together, developing technique together, our conversations we’ve had, all of it.”

He’s taken this experience back to ICYOLA, guiding and inspiring younger musicians as a leader in the orchestra. “There are little kids who just started playing their instruments, and being able to be a part of their development is super rewarding,” he expressed. “Not everyone is going to get the [learning experiences I’ve gotten].”

To help address those gaps in learning opportunities, Colburn and ICYOLA will pilot a joint strings and literacy program in a South LA elementary school next fall. When campus reopens, ICYOLA musicians will also have the opportunity to attend performances at Colburn, participate in side-by-side collaborations, join master classes, and more. “We’re still dreaming up all the different ways that we can work with them,” explained Jazmín Morales, Assistant Director of the Center for Innovation and Community Impact.

Through his studies at ICYOLA and Colburn, Solomon has discovered his dream of becoming a professional soloist. “Classical music is always going to be my foundation…but I’ve been able to branch out through ICYOLA,” he shared. In the last few years, he has gigged all over Los Angeles, played on film scores, performed at Walt Disney Concert Hall, and explored different genres like jazz, funk, and soul. “Being a member of ICYOLA has been the time of my life. It has inspired me to want to continue to play a variety of music.… ICYOLA is a place of opportunity.”

Solomon Leonard playing viola

Solomon and Mei-Ling Leonard on Studying with Dr. Minor Wetzel