No good? You're gong

If you ask 13-year-old Lukas Bartke or 14-year-old Clayton Bonura, “Star Wars” is the best song to play at the Verdugo Youth Musicians Assn. As the orchestra inches to the intro, and the conductor announces the song, all the kids let out a sigh of relief.

In 2001, the association began providing classical music training from professional musicians to children of all ages who live in Glendale, Burbank, La Cañada, Pasadena and the San Fernando Valley.

As part of the Los Angeles Philharmonic Partnership Program, the collaboration gives children their first seat next to a monstrous cello or drum.

The young musicians practice from 4:30 to 5:30 p.m. Tuesdays in individual or small group lessons with trained musicians. After a short break, the group joins together and plays as an orchestra led by Samvel Chilingarian and ends at 6:30 p.m. for the jazz ensemble.

Some nights are filled with serious training, while other nights might include a first time stab at an 1976 game show, “The Gong Show.”

“It’s a goofy thing where musicians are invited to play something fun, creative and if you are judged to not be funny or creative you basically are gonged out,” said Louise Ghandi, board president.

“It’s the first year that we’ve done this,” she said. “We got the idea from another youth orchestra. They do it all the time.”

Outside of the association, members take private lessons, conductor Chilingarian said.

It’s through these private lessons that children often learn of the association, he added.

“My parents were thinking about me joining because my private teacher Laurie Niles taught here,” said Simone Gottlieb, a 10-year-old who attends school at Westridge School in Pasadena.

Simone has played violin for five years.

Maya Barajas-Taera, 11, who attends Polytechnic School, joined the orchestra because one of her best friends joined. She’s played violin since she was 6 and enjoys the orchestra because she can play music with her friends, she said.

“It’s good because you know you’re surrounded by all your friends if you mess up,” Maya said. “There are some really nice people and the music’s good.”

In addition to the orchestra program, the association has added an outreach portion to the program, Ghandi said.

The association is a main contributor to the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s initiative to bring El Sistema to Los Angeles County, she said.

Jose Antonio Abreu, retired economist, musician and director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, created El Sistema in Venezuela to teach less-fortunate children music instruments.

The association began as an El Sistema-inspired program at Pasadena’s Longfellow Elementary School. Longfellow students are now learning instruments from scratch. Chilingarian and Ghandi will be panelists at the May National Symposium on El Sistema in Los Angeles.

In addition, the group has two other upcoming shows, April 10 and May 8. The April performance is a VYMA Faculty Benefit Concert at 6 p.m. at First Congregational Church Sanctuary, 2001 Cañada Blvd., Glendale. Admission is $10.

The May performance is the VYMA Spring Concert, which will be from 3 to 5 p.m. at Thorne Hall, Occidental College, 1600 Campus Road, Los Angeles.

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