Saturday, October 31, 2009

Thank you, World Music Drumming and Remo, Inc. for Your Donation!

In just two weeks, I have been humbled by the generosity of so many people who have given their time and talents to help this program and its fellows be successful.  Will Schmid and Remo Belli are among this amazing group of people.  In many ways, their story encapsulates the collaborative energy behind the El Sistema USA initiative:

After one e-mail explaining to Will the El Sistema USA program, the Abreu Fellows now have a 40-instrument World Drumming set coming our way to Boston with curriculum to explore, experience and consider incorporating into future El Sistema initiatives in the US.  Once I complete the fellowship in June, I will return to Juneau with these instruments and materials to put into the hands of children as part my program there.

Here’s how it all began: 

This past summer, I had the incredible experience of taking Will Schmid’s World Music Drumming class (see photo) in Wisconsin with hundreds of educators across the country. 

Will has developed a drumming ensemble curriculum in collaboration with Remo, Inc., which addresses national music standards while filling classrooms with joyous drumming and singing.  His summer workshops are packed with drumming technique, repertoire and ensemble skills, as well as the infusion of recorder, dance and song  I came away equipped with effective teaching techniques, confidence leading a drum ensemble and a community of newly formed friendships.  

When I learned that I would be participating in a fellowship aimed at bringing El Sistema to the US, I immediately thought of Will Schmid’s World Music Drumming curriculum.  The work Will and Remo have done embodies so much of El Sistema’s principles:  joyful music making through ensemble, using complex repertoire and incorporating folk music from the Americas.  This collaborative effort, which shares similar values as El Sistema, is an example of how meaningful work already done in the US can be an integral part of the future work we do.   Together we will accomplish incredible opportunities for our kids. 

Thank you, Will and Remo, for the work you have already done for kids and music education programs across the country through World Music Drumming.  We look forward to future endeavors together!

Week 3: Four Music Pedagogies and the Elephant

This week’s emphasis on music pedagogy gave me the unique opportunity to compare and contrast four influential philosophies:  Dalcroze, Kodaly, Orff-Schulwerk and Suzuki.  After experiencing all four, I came away wondering why these pedagogies haven’t joined forces.   They all support a holistic approach to music, just disagree over which element is most fundamental:  movement, singing/solfege, improvisation or music-making.

DALCROZE: Even though the other methods incorporate movement as part of their pedagogy, Dalcroze places movement as central to its teaching.  Lisa Parked, Director of Dalcroze Certification and Masters Degree program at Longy School of Music explained the three branches of the Dalcroze approach:
  • eurhythmics
  • active listening
  • improvisation and
  • solfege using a fixed "do" system (read more under Kodaly)
Eurythmics is described as using the body as the “principal instrument of musical expression and response.”  While Lisa improvised on the piano, we responded to her changes in tempo, rhythm and mood by either skipping, running or moving slowly like an astronaut in space.  Lisa made improvisation seem natural.  As a classically trained piano student, improvisation was not an option and slowly drilled out of me; but during this Dalcroze class, Lisa made improvising seem effortless.  All of our creations sounded beautiful and fit nicely into an orchestration, conducted by Jonathan.

KODALY: Kodaly is based on the belief that music literacy is the right of every human being.

Mary Epstein and Jonathan Rappaport, Co-Directors of NEC's Kodaly Music Institute demonstrated through singing and listening games how anyone who can read is capable of reading music.  Even more compelling was the video documentation of Wendy Silverberg's classroom in a Cambridge public school over a three-year period.  Wow, those 2nd graders put the Abreu Fellow's solfege skills to shame! (See photo above of Wendy, Jonathan, Mary and me demonstrating our solfege hand signs).

Music learning, in the Kodaly-inspired classroom, focuses on:
  • singing and dancing quality folk songs
  • movement
  • move-able solfege "do" system. 
Where Dalcroze sees movement as central to its approach, singing is the foundation of the Kodaly method. Interestingly, they share many things in common:  both Dalcroze and Kodaly emphasize experience first, intellectualize or notate later.  They also honor each other by borrowing key principles from one another.  Dalcroze incorporates Kodaly’s solfege system, while Kodaly relies heavily on movement through the lens of folk dances to teach rhythm. They do differ in their approach to a fixed vs. moveable “do” system; Dalcroze supports a fixed “do” and Kodaly, a moveable one.  The latter stresses the importance of tonal function and relationships, while the former, pitch and notation.  It’s a debate that still rages on!

ORFF SCHULWERK: Orff also incorporates many of the principles of the methods we explored during the week:
  • atmosphere of play
  • improvisation,
  • folk songs/chanting and
  • movement.
In particular, Orff emphasizes music connected with speech, movement, percussion instruments and the importance of improvisation structured through musical form.  Through Orff-inspired lessons, Ruth Debrot, a music specialist in the Sharon Public Schools reminded us how beautiful simplicity can be.  She modeled how the creation of a 4-beat pattern can be the launching point for wonderfully woven extensions – ostinati, forms, improvisations, speech patterns, and dance.  Through well-scaffolded lessons, guiding questions and humor, she created a safe environment for creative expression.  We moved to scarves, created our own Rondo form to Peas, Porridge Hot and ended the session with an orchestration of Ruth's composition, Nino Querido.

SUZUKI: Linda Fiore, Director of the Ogontz Suzuki Institute, studied with Suzuki in Japan and shared his guiding principles with us:
  • nurturing environment
  •  parent involvement, 
  • starting early, 
  • playing together and 
  • repetition through active listening. 

 Abreu Fellows taking a playful moment from their Suzuki instruction with Katie

Dr. Suzuki based music instruction on the same sequence of language acquisition:  listen, imitate, play (speak) and then read music.  His belief was that every child is capable of high musical achievement; rather than trying to produce musical prodigies, his goal was to nurture a “noble heart.”  He carefully selected and sequenced real repertoire so that students learn skills in small steps within an authentic musical context.  Linda shared her indispensable bag of tricks to help teach difficult skills through early childhood practices:  carpet squares to help identify personal space, dowel rods toilet paper rolls to practice bowing, paint swatches and different colored fabrics to explore dynamics and mood.

THE ELEPHANT:  Much like the story of the Five Blind Men and the Elephant, these four approaches shouldn’t lose the big picture in music education:  child-centered approaches infused with ensemble and joyful music-making.  

This theme kept emerging throughout the week’s sessions and not surprisingly, is a recurring theme in the work of El Sistema. As we continue our work in the Abreu Fellowship, I am constantly drawn to the possibilities of partnership with organizations and people who have already done meaningful work in the US and who share similar philosophies.  Significant impact happens when we work together.  Thank you,  presenters, for helping to start the conversation.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

A Musical Feast - New England Style

In just one week I:

NEC Philharmonia warming up for Wayne Shorter Quartet

Only in a city like Boston would you find such an incredible variety of music, right?  No, not exactly.  Even in Juneau, a community with a population of only 30,711, you are often faced with making difficult choices: musical theatre or the symphony, salsa dancing or a play, opera or a Celtic rock band?

With all of these wonderful offerings, I’m reminded of the value-based question Ben Cameron asked us on Friday:  How will my community be affected if it is deprived of music tomorrow? For Juneau, it would devastate a community who often relies on music and the arts to uplift, connect and sustain us.  I feel very fortunate to be a part of the El Sistema USA initiative and what it will mean for children in Juneau, as well as communities all across the US.

Music produces a kind of pleasure which human nature cannot do without. ~ Confucius

Thank you, Mary Epstein and Carolyn Colby, for making sure that Rebecca and I could attend the Kodaly dance and singing games workshop presented by the Amidon’s. We will definitely share what we learned with the other fellows (top right photo)

Thank you, Mark Churchill and Sean Hagon, for connecting me with the NEC Gospel Choir (2nd & 3rd photos on right).

Thank you Mark Leach, for the incredible gift you gave me in the form of a ticket to the Wayne Shorter Quintet and Orchestra concert.  It was wonderful meeting you and your son.

Thank you, Juneau, for providing so many opportunities for me to play and perform (photo below)

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Week 2: Key of C's or Knowing Your Core Values

How does one synthesize a week filled with such diverse topics as leadership, community partnerships and the inner-workings of a successful El Sistema initiative in Baltimore?  Two Words: Core Values

In the spirit of the Harlem Children’s Zone where organizations are “creating an interlocking web of services” to meet the needs of all of its children, Ben Cameron, Program Director of Arts at the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation; Daphne Griffin, Executive Director of the Boston Centers for Youth & Families; and Tanya Maggi, Director of Performance Outreach at New England Conservatory; all stressed how important it is for an organization to define its core values and then seek partnerships whose values intersect.

These are the value-based questions that Ben (in photo left with Ben Zander and Mark Churchill) asks arts organizations to help them better define their role in their communities:
  1. What is the value of my program to the community?
  2. What is the value my program alone brings better than anyone else?
  3. How will my community be affected if it is deprived of music tomorrow?
  4. How does my organization optimally structure itself and its behavior to become the best conduit of music education and social change for my community?                
Ben drives home the point that people are not asking about the quality of the arts, they are asking about its value. Value precedes quality and drives funding priorities.

Dan Trahey who helped start an El Sistema initiative in Baltimore, called the ORCHKids program, proves Ben's point. His program provides snacks, academic tutoring and instrumental music for children Pre-K through 2nd grades.  The program has a successful partnership with the Baltimore School District because their values intersect and are expressed in this ORCHKids mission statement:

“Create an after-school program devoted to music appreciation, academics, citizenship, community awareness, family and health (emotional, social and physical).”

ORCHKids takes place during and after school and continues to expand:  testimony of how much the program is valued by the community.  Orchestra is seen as a metaphor for an ideal society – each member is valued, strives together through teamwork and beautifully communicate a shared vision through diverse voices.  Watch a short video about the ORCHKids program and its accomplishments.

As I looked over the key elements of the El Sistema program and reflected on the values of my own community of Juneau, I began developing a list of core values or “Key of C’s”:
  • Child First, Music Second: every child is an asset and deserves access to the lifelong social, emotional and academic benefits that music provides, regardless of their financial means.
  • Community Building through ensemble, peer mentoring and community partnerships to help students reach their potential and become contributing members of society.
  • Consistency of Program: start early and everyday so that students have a daily haven of safety, joy and sense of value.
  • Challenge: through discipline and teamwork, students strive together to master difficult works.
  • Classical and Culturally Relevant Repertoire is emphasized to respect the contributions of a diversely rich community.
  • Child-Centered: instruction engages the whole child through movement and joyful music-making.
This is still a work in progress, but certainly one I hope to develop in collaboration with the folks and organizations in Juneau.  Together, we can create an "interlocking web of services" to meet the needs of our children.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Whirlwind Week 1: Focus on El Sistema's Key Elements

How do we capture the unique qualities of El Sistema and translate them here in the U.S.? That was the big question permeating our discussions this week led by incredible presenters:

On Wednesday, Anne Fitzgibbon who traveled to Venezuela as a Fulbright Scholar and started an El Sistema initiative in the US called the Harmony Program in Brooklyn, New York, shared her key elements:

  • Intensity of Study:  students start as early as age three and attend the conservatory every day after school.
  • Supportive Culture:  extraordinary relationship between teacher and students, as well as student to student.  Everybody is on the same team.
  • Emphasis on Ensemble:  students feel important and have fun through peer interaction and mentoring. Movement is embedded in everything they do.  They play joyfully; they have fun.

On Thursday, Eric Booth, who wears many hats including author of the book, The Music Teaching Artist’s Bible, helped the fellows brainstorm our own list of El Sistema key elements (see photo).  In addition to Anne’s list we added:
  • Child First, Music Second
  • Sustainable through Consistent Funding
  • Emphasis on Performance 
  • Passion before Precision
  • Flexible Model with Clear Vision
  • Access to All Students 
  • Family and Community Inclusion
  • Every Child is an Asset and has the Capacity to Learn 
  • Mix of Classical and Folk Music
On Friday, El Sistema graduates studying in the US provided an informal round table discussion, allowing us to ask questions about their experiences as children participating in Venezuela’s El Sistema program (see photo below).  They were very patient with us and after three hours of questions were able to help us hone in on what they thought made El Sistema unique and successful:
    • Camaraderie: students and teachers are a family
    • Consistency and Intensity of Program: rehearsals every day for at least four hours 
    • Use of Movement as Teaching Method: having movement as part of their lessons helped them stay motivated and instilled a sense of play. 
    • Seminars:  each nucleo would have the opportunity to travel, visit and play with students from other nucleos.  Each seminar lasted one or two weeks and was obvious by our visitors’ enthusiastic responses that it was key to the program. 
    • Competition or “to strive with”: students worked hard to advance to the next orchestra level, because it meant more challenging music, performances and travel.
    The week ended very much like it began:  being inspired by Ben Zander.  Instead of his “home” in Jordan Hall where I watched him conduct the Boston Philharmonic last weekend, Ben hosted an evening at his home in Cambridge for many people key to making the El Sistema USA program a reality, including Anna and Amy from the TED organization.  Ben shared dinner, conversation and inspiring stories about his life.  I am thrilled to be able to participate in his Music Interpretation class each Friday, one of the most popular classes at NEC! Not only does he model how music is an art form; but equally important, how teaching is an art form.  You can watch his inspiring talk on TED about music and passion.

      Tuesday, October 13, 2009

      Our First Day: The Stars are Aligning

      After much anticipation, today finally arrived! It was the first day of the Abreu Fellows program.  I was excited and nervous walking through the doors of the New England Conservatory, but imagine how those feelings intensified when the fellows were greeted by a camera crew, led by Jamie Bernstein, the daughter of Leonard Bernstein! I am only beginning to feel the magnitude of this endeavor and am honored to be a part of it. There are so many people at both the national and international levels converging to help the El Sistema initiative spread to countries throughout the world.  Jamie is one of them and hopes to create a documentary of this US initiative by following our training in the first year and then our work in US communities during the second.  Her project is contingent upon funding, but the TED organization has funded her filming for this first week to give her the opportunity to create a short piece to send to prospective sponsors (see photos of Jamie and her crew).

      TED also released the profiles of the Ten Inaugural Abreu Fellows on their website today: Meet the 2009/2010 Abreu Fellows.  Through our paired interviews this morning, I was reminded again of how diverse our group is, yet we share a common vision: the right for every child to play music in ensemble.  I am already learning from each and every one of my colleagues.

      Was it a coincidence that just last Friday, ABC News made their Person of the Week Gustavo Dudamel, an El Sistema graduate and international sensation who now serves as the Executive Director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic?  I tend to think not, for after watching this clip, you'll understand why El Sistema is in the hearts and minds of so many people.  The stars are aligning.

      Prodigy Honored 'Person of the Week'

      Sunday, October 11, 2009

      A Musical Welcome to Boston

      What a thrill on my first full day in Boston to receive an invitation to attend the Boston Philharmonic's first concert of the season from their conductor, Benjamin Zander. All of the Abreu Fellows were extended this wonderful opportunity to hear Dvorak's Symphony No. 7 and Brahms Violin Concerto performed by Feng Ning, an incredibly talented young Chinese violinist.  Conductor Zander provided a pre-concert lecture, bringing the composers and their music to life through stories, analogy and humor.  I particularly appreciated his analogy comparing rubato to a drive through the Swiss Alps, stopping or slowing in some places, while speeding along in others.  His enthusiasm was contagious, as evident by the passion in which each member of the orchestra played.  It was an honor to attend the concert and meet Mr. Zander, as well as many of the other Abreu Fellows (see photos).

      Ben Zander and his wife, Rosamund, wrote the book, The Art of Possibility, which I had the pleasure of reading this past summer.  In the book, they share ideas to help open their readers to the world of possibilities.  Watching Mr. Zander and the members of the Boston Philharmonic interact made visible many of the principles laid out in the book, including Leading from Any Chair, Giving Way to Passion and Lighting a Spark.  Thank you, Benjamin Zander, the Boston Philharmonic, Dean Churchill and the New England Conservatory for such a warm welcome to Boston!

      Monday, October 5, 2009

      Stopping in Deer Isle, Maine

      Before settling down in Boston,  I was able to meet the Stonington Elementary School teachers and principal on Deer Isle, Maine.  Through a Kennedy Center Partners in Education Grant, Glacier Valley will be partnering with Thunder Mountain High School in Juneau and Deer Isle School for the next two years involving students in grades 4 - 12 to integrate technology and produce a collaborative music and theater piece that reflects the fishing culture both communities share.   Even though I'll be studying in Boston,  I hope to stay connected with this project and will be maintaining a wiki space to help Alaska and Maine teachers and students communicate with each other.  It was wonderful meeting our school partners face-to-face, as well as some of my Glacier Valley friends through a short video conference.  What a beautiful community Deer Isle has!  Thank you, Principal Benjamin, for the tour!