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521 West Yakima Avenue
Yakima, WA, 98901
United States




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Student Reflection

YAMA Program

In June of 2016, three of our leadership students were flown to Aspen, CO, to participate in the regional National Take A Stand Festival, an initiative of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Bard College, and the Longy School of Music. All accepted students passed a rigorous audition and application process. Once in Colorado, they worked with some of the best teachers in the US and met students from around the country. Here is one student's reflection of her experience.

 Enerida Mendoza, Daniela Vazquez, and Nataly Mendoza as they prepare to leave on their adventure.

Enerida Mendoza, Daniela Vazquez, and Nataly Mendoza as they prepare to leave on their adventure.

My name is Daniela. Going to Aspen was an amazing experience for me. I had the opportunity to get an idea of what it could be when I grow up and keep playing the cello. At first it was scary because I didn't know anyone but then I got to know them and they were really nice. The first thing we did when we got there was to eat and then move in. My roommates and I started talking and it wasn't so bad. There names were Gabriela and Samantha. Gabriela plays the cello and Samantha plays the bass. The next day when we started playing and went to the Aspen Music School they said that some of the rooms we were going to be working in were new. Hearing that some of the rooms were new felt cool because we were going to be the first ones to use them. Playing was a little hard because it was going faster than what we expected it to be. But it was still really fun. By the time for that concert I could play it a little better because it was still going really fast I got to learn a lot of new techniques like when you audition for programs like that you have to practice really fast and really slow because you don't know how fast or slow it's going. So it can be hard to catch up to speed. I also learned that if you want to speed up you play it slow and short so that then you can just remove the gaps and play it faster.
Other than the really fast parts it was really fun making new friend from all over and getting to play with them and know them more was really fun. And knowing that out of many people you were chosen was special. And at the end I didn't want to leave. 

 Taking in the natural beauty of Colorado

Taking in the natural beauty of Colorado

Our Program Values

YAMA Program

. . . a living document . . .

(first draft by Jen Moultine, April 2016)


“I believe that 80% of what we teach is who we are.” 

--Eric Booth, The Teaching Artist’s Bible



We at YAMA have been trying to hone in on why YAMA is what it is, and what makes it that way. A YAMA Board member recently made the observation that none of us (the Teaching Artists, or TAs) are teaching in the way we were trained. We are striving for more, reaching for a different culture. This requires an ongoing process of discussion, introspection, observation, experimentation, and meeting our students where they are while helping them to reach for the next level in their musical ability and self-awareness. Lucky for us, though, we share the ultimate goal of making beautiful music and having fun as we navigate through these unknown waters; this is our glue.


Some of the things we have talked about as a team are fairly easy to list out, and yet are so uniquely adapted by each of us. This is one of the benefits of having such a small team. We are able to communicate, to take the time to collaborate, and yet we are also able to do what we feel is best in our own lessons. There is no one telling us what to teach when, which for so many teachers these days is a rare blessing. The other edge of that blade is the big challenge to consistently co-create a culture and curriculum that doesn’t yet exist on paper. This is the big magic of what we get to do together.

That said, let me attempt to map out some of our shared core values as a program:

·      We are a learning organization. Constant, ongoing learning is the impetus for what we do. This may seem somewhat obvious on the surface when we think about this in relation to the students. But if we look more closely, this learning goes much deeper. Not only are we striving to create learning experiences for the students everyday, we are also always looking for ways to engage more parts of them – their musical technique and expression, their hearts, their intellect and curiosity, their humanity, their interpersonal selves, their growing ability for personal reflection, and so on. With this in mind, our role as teachers can be one of creating shared expectations and structure, or a framework, within which the students are able to explore, experience, take risks, learn, and grow.

 First year violinists practicing notation

First year violinists practicing notation


But THEN we can zoom out and say the same for the teachers. All of the items I listed for student growth can be translated right over to our TAs – on a different level and through a different lens, perhaps, but the same nonetheless. We are all striving to grow and get better at what we do all the time. We have days of wild success in our lessons, and days where we experiment with a new idea and it is an obvious ‘no’ for fit and relevance. And then we share these things with each other. We also ask each other for help and ideas and brainstorming time and a listening ear. This is where I feel our team is so special – we don’t let our egos get in the way of our growth, and we never pretend to know it all. Not even close. This leaves room for a whole lot of creative potential, and allows us to take risks as teachers, which is a really great way to grow and expand our box of teaching tools and color pallet of artistic inspiration. We strive for this growth in our teaching as well as our performance. If we lose touch with ourselves as performers then our teaching becomes flat and lifeless. We have to stoke our own fires to have any to share.


·      Respect is key. Respect is the cornerstone of how we do what we do at YAMA. This translates into professional respect as well as respect for our students. This means we strive to appeal to our students’ intrinsic motivation and do not rely on punitive measures for learning outcomes. This takes constant mindfulness, since most of us were taught in ways that involved shaming and punishment as means for motivation. The students are also expected to be respectful – of themselves and others, of their instruments and the space we are so graciously allowed to use. The big one that comes up most often for me in my teaching, and can be the most helpful to go back to in times of distraction/chaos, is the expectation that we all respect everyone’s right to learn as well as the teacher’s right to teach. This means that we do not interrupt, we do not play when the teachers are talking, and we do not make fun of others.


Rehearsal Agreements for YAMA Students and Teachers:

♬ Be safe, on time, and ready to learn

♬ Bring all materials

♬ Respect yourself: Always try your best

♬ Respect the teachers’ right to teach, respect the students’ right to learn

♬ Respect all instruments and propert


Another aspect of respect involves accountability. We hold each other accountable, and hope our students hold us accountable, as teachers.  We also hold our students accountable to their commitment to being a part of YAMA and all that entails. As a result, the students are able to hold each other accountable to their responsibilities to the group, which is a really great kind of peer pressure. This is a powerful life lesson to learn, and can feed a personal and communal a sense of safety, belonging, responsibility and purpose.

 YAMA Leadership Students and Teaching Artists performing side by side: Mutual Respect en Acción.

YAMA Leadership Students and Teaching Artists performing side by side: Mutual Respect en Acción.

·      We are creating space for these future leaders to come into themselves. This is a big one for us, and the reason we do all the hard work that we do to not perpetuate a more classical model of education. Students do not learn to lead when they just sit and follow directions all the time. This requires a very dynamic balance, which we are all still seeking to find – allowing for leadership among our students while still maintaining the atmosphere that we need in order to make really good music. Some ways we do this are in peer teaching, choosing group leaders for certain lessons, choosing teacher helpers, offering auditions for more advanced musical opportunities, giving every student a chance to sit in the leader chair to practice counting, cueing, and ownership, and giving students the chance to play on their own or in small groups for the larger group as much as possible. (Here is some of that “safe risk-taking.” I shied away from the last one for a long while, because I was a very timid player growing up. But I have found that if I present the opportunity to play alone in a fun way, congratulate the students for being brave and sharing - I learned this one from Mrs. Humphrey - and have them do it a LOT, it takes some of the terror out of it. I wish I had had more opportunity to let my voice b heard when I was younger because it might have saved me a lot of years of performance anxiety.)


 Moises, one of the Chamber Orchestra violists, teaching some of the Preludio students.

Moises, one of the Chamber Orchestra violists, teaching some of the Preludio students.

  • We strive for fun AND high standards. We are a young program, and we have a long way to go before we achieve the caliber we desire to reach. We have faced many challenges, like any start-up program, with finances, staffing, and community support. Yet we forge ahead and keep improving. We are aware that it does our students no favors to expect less than excellence from them. Many of these kids are already talking about one day being music teachers and performers, and even coming to work at YAMA. We owe them a good set-up and a fighting chance to succeed. We try to combine this rigor and discipline with fun. This challenge brings a lot of creative thinking our pedagogy, which is ever-evolving. Games, stories and images, listening opportunities, movement, exposure to really high caliber artists, variety in lessons . . . we are always looking for new ways to keep things alive. In fact, if you feel compelled to share any of your favorite teaching tools, we would love to hear about them!


As we grow and mature as a program, our values will continue to be defined and to define us more clearly. This is but the beginning, and, oh what fun we are having!




What Is That ‘YAMA Feeling’?

YAMA Program

Hi, I’m Jen (or Mrs. Moultine, as my students call me) and I have been one of the YAMA Teaching Artists since January of 2014. I think all of us who teach at YAMA have varied and big reasons for why we do what we do. By its very nature, this job requires a certain buy-in of the heart. As with any start up, there are limited resources, many obstacles to overcome, and few guarantees. So why do we do this? I can’t answer for my colleagues, but I can at least try to rub up against why I am a part of this thing.

First, though, I have a question for you: Do you believe in magic? Or, if it is easier on your sensibilities to rephrase the word ‘magic’, do you believe in the power of intention?

Okay, I am aware of the fact that there may be many eyes rolling right now, which is just fine. But before I get into that, I have a confession:

I don’t work at YAMA because of altruism alone, though, of course, there is a certain satisfaction in doing work that makes a difference.

I don’t work at YAMA because I love teaching music so much that I can’t imagine doing anything else. In fact, I never wanted to teach music; it always seemed like such a huge and impossible task, to turn a hoard of young, squirrely, usually hormonal non-musicians into skilled participants of an ensemble while somehow surviving all of that horrible intonation. Frankly, I never thought I was up to the task.

I don’t work at YAMA because of the oodles of cash that I bring home every pay period. Okay, you’re right, this is sarcasm. Music teachers do not make oodles of cash. Neither do non-profit employees, generally speaking.

I am a part of YAMA because I love YAMA itself – the students, my colleagues, the community that supports the program, the creative energy it carries, the way it asks me to grow and stretch every day, and the fact that I get to show up with all of me to do this job.

Two elated cellists after their first solo recital:

Daniela, left, Heidi, right.

                                            When was the last time you got to see smiles like these?


All of the Teaching Artists at YAMA come from varied backgrounds, giving us a collective wealth of abilities and knowledge to draw from. We have been a small team with a big dream and a whole heap of integrity, and I think we have begun to create something really unique and incredible, something that feeds not only the vision we hold for the students we are fortunate enough to work with, but that also feeds us. Daily.

Some of us started out on our career paths knowing we wanted to teach music. Others of us, like I said, not so much. My path to YAMA has been a winding one, and I really never would have guessed, had you asked me 10, or even 5, or even 3 years ago, that this is where I would be right now. Yet it doesn’t feel accidental. (If you were paying attention at the beginning then this might be where you are asking yourself, “Is this where the magic comes in?” The answer is yes. In a roundabout kind of way.)

When did you first learn about El Sistema? Maybe you heard about it from a friend, or maybe you did some research after watching the Super Bowl halftime show last month. Maybe you just know about it because of YAMA, or maybe you have no idea what I’m talking about, in which case I really recommend you check out this short talk by Jose Antonio Abreu, one of the founders of El Sistema. (It’s only 16 minutes long. Just watch it – you won’t regret it, even if you’ve seen it before.)

I learned about El Sistema right after spending a few months living and studying in Ecuador. I went down there to learn, to push myself, and to re-organize my brain and heal some personal stuff. I was fresh from the jungle when I first watched Tocar y Luchar, translated as ‘To Play and To Fight’, a documentary about El Sistema in Venezuela. I connected deeply and immediately to this film for many reasons.

On the surface, I think I was really missing the culture of warmth, physical closeness, noise, and color that I had just come home from.

(If you’ve spent time in Latin America, then you know what I mean. If you haven’t, allow me to paint you a little picture: On one of the many long, crowded bus trips I took across Ecuador, I had a 4 year old leaning against my right arm while she held her baby brother in her lap and an old woman sleeping on my left shoulder (all total strangers to me), a woman behind me holding three chickens by their feet so they slept, a man in the back of the bus chasing down his chickens that he had accidently let wake up, Reggaeton blasting from the magenta and gold tasseled speakers just over the head of a young boy sitting on a sack full of corn on his way to market, and at every stop swarms of children and adults alike boarding the bus to sell anything from chicle to helados to bracelets to t-shirts. Surrounded by all of this for hours, I felt comfortable, grounded, at ease. Not right away, mind you, but eventually you find your center amidst so much . . . er . . . so much. It was like I was being held my all this life around me. And then there was the incredible natural beauty everywhere, which in and of itself is nourishing to a person, and the whole living in the jungle thing, which is another story altogether.

Coto, the baby howler monkey, who I was “mom” to a few days a week while I volunteered atamaZoonico

A little deeper down, though, there was this thing tugging at my insides – this sense that this life I had come home to wasn’t quite right. The music degree I was trying to finish seemed cold and remote compared to the vibrant groundedness of where I had just been. This institution of classical music education felt so controlled, so sterile, so confined, and, most depressing of all, elitist and exclusive. In an attempt to be honest, my own baggage was absolutely tied to this assessment, particularly the first 3 items on the list. But it is hard to deny the tradition of the last two. (If this isn’t obvious to you, then watch that Abreu talk.)

Deeply affected by my time in Ecuador, I felt like I wanted to participate in something that could help break cycles of privilege and inequity, and I couldn’t quite wrap my mind around how playing classical cello could do that. This doubt, added to my recurring playing injuries and performance anxiety, gave shape to a balloon of grief that began to inflate in my chest.

Jungle transportation/simple life. Photo credit:

I was disoriented and depressed. Yet this growing grief and uncertainty was carving space for something to come in, making room for a seed to be planted. This is why I don’t think that the timing of when I was first introduced to El Sistema was accidental. (There it is again…)

It was love at first sight. A hopeless, tearful, seemingly unrequited, this-is-impossible-for-me-in-reality kind of love. But I loved everything about it – the message, the promise, the results that seemed so clear, the combination of vibrancy and discipline, and the bold social justice of it. 

And yet I was raw, young, and deeply insecure. So what did I do with this big love? I pushed it out of my mind while I tried to figure out what I should do with my life. I tried to be practical, realistic. Makes sense, right? Try to follow your heart while denying a big part of it. Totally reasonable.

Have you ever done that? Have you loved something so much and felt so unworthy of it that you pushed it away? Do you still have a little kernel of something wedged inside you, maybe between your ribs or just under your clavicle, just waiting to be plucked out and brought into the light to grow? If so, I encourage you not to give up on the idea that it might yet come to materialize – this whisper of a dream, this fragment of a vision.

There was a decade of time between when I was in Ecuador, resetting my insides, and when I first started working at YAMA. I went to the jungle because I listened to a whisper from my childhood – the desire to live with monkeys in the Amazon – which I had convinced myself in my practical mind would never come to pass. Until, suddenly, there the opportunity was, right in front of me.

And after years of dreaming big dreams of an integrated and accessible music education program (which seemed so out of reach for me to be a part of, let alone contribute to) and working in seemingly disparate disciplines, I suddenly found El Sistema in my back yard and myself ready to bring all these bits and pieces of my experience together to help create something new, along with a team full of people doing the same.

Accident? Coincidence? I don’t know about you, but that feels kind of magical to me. 

So what do we do at YAMA? And why is it so special?  


Well, friends, I invite you to come visit us to see for yourself.

And in the meantime, stay tuned to our blog for more stories about what we do, how we do it, what questions we are asking, both big and small, and how we are seeking out the answers.