They arrived at the orchestra through untraditional routes: One violin player is the son of an Ethiopian man who escaped his country's civil war. A 13-year-old girl who plays the French horn is the daughter of Guatemalan immigrants who practices in her family's small apartment.

More than 700 children from mostly disadvantaged families are now enrolled in the Youth Orchestra Los Angeles, taking up violas and cellos, and a few life lessons and even scholarships along with music lessons.

"If we want a better future for our children, we have to go outside our communities," Adriana Sanchez, whose two sons are enrolled in the orchestra, told the Los Angeles Times. "Music should not only be for the upper class."

The youth orchestra was started eight years ago as part of the Los Angeles Philharmonic's efforts to reach younger, more diverse audiences in a county that is 50 percent Latino. It was modeled after a Venezuelan program that sponsors more than 100 orchestras and has taught hundreds of thousands of students. The orchestra was also launched to help persuade Gustavo Dudamel to sign on as conductor.

The orchestra now operates from three sites and has a waiting list that is 400 students long. Children are taught how to read musical scores and attend at least one Phil concert each year. The most gifted are encouraged to pursue higher training.

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"When you give an instrument to a young boy or a young girl, they are building their world with that instrument," Dudamel said.

French horn player Vivian Trejo, 13, won a scholarship to the Colburn School in Los Angeles, one of the nation's top conservatories. Others, like violinist Rodas Hailu, 18, said the orchestra has helped them get into college. Now a freshman at Grinnell College in Iowa, she said that music has become a way of putting her life in perspective and being in the orchestra an intrinsic part of her upbringing.

"It's a part of my life," she said. "It's like breathing."

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