The Los Angeles Philharmonic, known as one of the most forward-thinking and innovative orchestras in America, has extended their music education program into the heart of Inglewood. The LA Phil’s YOLA program (Youth Orchestra Los Angeles) has been shaping Los Angeles youth for nearly 15 years, and they’re planting roots in communities that are historically overlooked. YOLA’s brand-new 25,000 square-foot, purpose-built education center lies in Inglewood, and in the driver’s seat of the Beckmen YOLA Center is Director Camille Delaney-McNeil. Through her leadership role, Delaney-McNeil sees an opportunity to bring societal change and to impact life trajectories of young people. “I’ve always known about YOLA. The work that they’ve been able to do here is really impactful and has that systemic reach and potential,” she says.
Raised in Prince George’s County in Maryland, about 45 minutes south of Baltimore, Delaney-McNeil found her love for music at a young age while traveling with her touring mother, a professional opera singer. It was with the help of her two grandmothers that she was able to tag along on tour, witnessing her mother’s expertise on a daily basis.
“From the time I was nine days old, she left the hospital and had to go on a national tour, so I’ve been a road baby since nine days into my life,” says Delaney-McNeil. “That was my introduction to life– music.”
But between her two parents, there was always a wide range of career fields on display. Her father worked in the corporate setting, human resources, to be exact. “I easily could have gone a different direction. But music called to me, fed my soul, and made me feel like my authentic self.”
Delaney-McNeil completed her undergrad at the University of Maryland, and then headed to the Peabody Institute of The John Hopkins University, a music and dance conservatory in Baltimore, where she earned her master’s degree in Flute Performance. She is also a singer.
Shortly after the series of graduate school, getting married, the birth of her son, and a brief self-care hiatus, Delaney-McNeil accepted a part-time job offer as a program assistant with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra’s Orchkids program. “There was all of this beauty happening with the young Black and brown children, and the exposure to music and music education. I thought to myself, ‘This is what I’m supposed to be doing,’” she said. “I want to be a role model for young people who look like me, and I look like them.”
She remained with the Orchkids program for nearly a decade, and it was during these years that she grasped the deep impact that music and art has on each upcoming generation, and the detriment that can come from a lack thereof.
“Seeing the systemic failures of how the arts are treated in this country, and how that was failing our young people and not giving them leverage or voice– if you think about any major social or historical movement, art is always in the mix,” says Delaney-McNeil. She began dedicating the majority of her days at Orchkids to program and curriculum building, which inevitably transitioned to leadership roles. And although she’s now a Los Angeles resident embarking on a different, new leadership position as director of the Judith and Thomas L. Beckmen YOLA Center in Inglewood, her time in Baltimore is the foundation of all of the good that she’ll bring to Inglewood.
The Maryland native always knew there was more work to be done and more lives to touch. But she had built a cozy life in her home state, so considering how gripping a comfort zone can be, I had to ask, “What was it exactly that swayed you here to Los Angeles and the YOLA program?”
It’s the profound cultural impact of YOLA, and its bountiful resources that makes the program one of the best in the world. It’s where she can make the most impact that will echo from coast to coast– a goal she’s never lost sight of.
“The intention behind YOLA is to build into community, to build a home for young people that can serve as a resource locally and for the field, and for the world,” says Delaney-McNeil.
When the opportunity to join the powerhouse and lead the Beckmen YOLA Center presented itself, she recalled thinking, “Camille, this is what you’ve been talking about. You’ve been talking about how to be a leader, how you want to make systemic change– this is the next step in doing that.”