When the time came to audition for a cappella groups at UCLA, the decision was easy for Eleanor Fang, a third-year environmental science student. Instead of choosing a group that focused only on performance elements, Fang chose YOUTHphonics, a coed a cappella group on campus that brings a cappella lessons to high school students with minimal performing arts opportunities.
On Friday, YOUTHphonics will present its annual concert featuring guest performing students from Los Angeles’ Fairfax High School. Centered on service, YOUTHphonics looks toward the concert each year as a tradition of showing its vocal abilities and dedication to the youth of Los Angeles.
When major budget cuts hit school systems in California, art programs were cut down to accommodate. This takes away an outlet for high school students who look to music to enrich their learning and channel their energy.
“A lot of the art programs were being cut in the local high schools, and with our passion for music, that is a concern to us,” Fang said. “We know how much it means to the youth.”
A coed group of UCLA students founded YOUTHphonics in 2008 to honor the importance of art opportunities for high school students. The group has since taken action for this effort. YOUTHphonics welcomes Fairfax High School students from freshmen to seniors, creating a community within the school.
“Our mission is to bring a cappella to teens who want to experience avenues of music, but because of their circumstances and location, can’t do that through classes or programs,” said Zhuping Hu, a fifth-year computer science student and music director of YOUTHphonics.
The high school students typically meet with YOUTHphonics biweekly to get a taste of what an a cappella rehearsal feels like and work on their performance techniques.
“It’s the only time that I get to sing besides when I’m singing obnoxiously loud in the shower at home,” said Krystyn Hernandez, a sophomore at Fairfax High School.
UCLA a cappella groups typically perform in multiple concerts, off-campus performances and occasionally competitions. But YOUTHphonics spotlights its work only annually, inviting students from Fairfax High School to perform with the group in one or two songs.
Fang said that the group has a varied repertoire intended to appeal to a broad audience.
“Our music tends to be a fun mix of older and hip songs you hear on the radio,” Hu said. “We try to use quirky songs that have never been done before by other a cappella groups. We want to bring a brand-new a cappella experience to our concert audiences.”
Fang said that this year’s concert will debut such songs as “Set Fire to the Rain” by Adele, “Price Tag” by Jessie J and “Kiss” by Prince. She said that much of the night will include Top 40 pieces and that overall the group will perform 11 songs.
The students of Fairfax High School will collaborate with YOUTHphonics to sing “Man in the Mirror” by Michael Jackson. YOUTHphonics’ investment in the Fairfax High School students is year-round during the school year, and the group begins preparation for the spring concert in the winter.
Stephanie Salinas, a junior at Fairfax High School, said she had no musical background but still decided to join YOUTHphonics after hearing about the group at a school assembly.
“I like to sing. They don’t care if you sing perfectly or even well ““ the fact that you’re present is enough. It’s pretty amazing to have a group accept you for who you are,” Salinas said.
The rehearsal time at Fairfax High School has impacted students beyond sheet music, Hernandez said.
“I’ve been able to open up a lot more in general, and I think that’s a result of learning to put myself out there with an art form,” Hernandez said.
The students from Fairfax High School will showcase what they have been working on to an audience in the UCLA community. Hernandez said her experience performing at UCLA last year motivated her to continue with YOUTHphonics this year.
“It was nerve-wracking, especially when I thought about the people watching who were planning on performing after us and knew exactly what they’re doing,” Hernandez said. “But when I got up there, I was like, “˜I know the lyrics, I’ve been practicing. All I have to do is sing.’”