Saturday, January 22, 2011

Visiting B Sharp in Ft. Worth, Texas

The teaching staff at the El Sistema-inspired B Sharp program in Ft. Worth, Texas

While attending the National Teacher of the Year conference in Dallas, I was able to visit the newly established B Sharp program in Ft. Worth, Texas.   This El Sistema-inspired program began in October, 2010 and offers ten hours of weekly music instruction as an after-school program for first grade students at Como Elementary School.  The students rotate through four classes including bucket band, choir, musicianship and violin instruction.  I was particularly interested in visiting this program because of its public school partnership and the after-school component for 1st graders. 

Funded by the Goff Foundation, B Sharp's mission is to "bring about social change using ensemble music as the tool to build individuals and communities."  The program's director, Osvaldo Mendoza, worked with the ORCHKids program in Baltimore and developed a youth orchestra in Juarez, Mexico before heading up B Sharp in August.  Currently, the program enrolls about 40 students.

Osvaldo and the teaching staff had kindly altered their Friday sessions so that I could observe all four classes in one day.  In that 2-hour time period, I saw incredible teaching and along with it, engaged students.  Many of El Sistema's fundamentals were present in the different sessions, including joyful music-making.

For example, in the musicianship class, Robert Winckel had his kids on the edge of their seats playing the game, SoLaMi (at first, I thought it was "Salami!") where the class had to identify melodic patterns that contained a so-la-mi sequence.  He also used his wedding ring as "moveable do" as he placed it between his fingers, now representing a musical staff.  This entire activity was presented as a magic trick, which he encouraged his students to do at home :) 

Amanda Vessels, who teaches bucket band, instantly motivated her students with this one comment: "I'm looking for teachers."  She kept the lessons playful, but always with a positive discipline that demanded focus from the students and respect for proper drumming technique.  Amy Jines used movement in her choir by exploring vocal pitch through a ball toss. 

Afterward, Osvaldo and Jill Goff from the Goff Foundation treated me to dinner where we had a chance to talk all things El Sistema.  After living and breathing it for one year as an Abreu Fellow, it was re-energizing to be able to sit down with folks who held the same interest and passion for this work.  We inspired one another and plan to stay connected as we continue growing our programs.  Thank you, Jill, Osvaldo and the entire B Sharp teaching staff for welcoming me into your classrooms.  You are doing great work!

Standing with Jill Goff and Osvaldo Mendoza

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