As you may know, the First International Teaching Artist Conference happened in Oslo this August. It was a project of mine in conjunction with SEANSE, a Norwegian arts education organization, funded mostly by the Norwegian Government. Delegates from 23 countries attended, and it's success was more striking than we had expected. There is talk underway about a second conference in 2014, with bids coming from three countries.
I recently completed the attached essaywhich is my first reflection on the conference. Since so few Americans were able to attend, I hope to give this wide distribution to share the discoveries. Please enjoy and then pass this essay along in any way you can—to friends, to listserves, to blogs, and to newsletters. Thank you for helping to send this to anyone who identifies with some connection to the field of teaching artistry.
Thanks for your help. If it is easier to send people a web link, the essay is available here.
I'm now in Newport News, VA with Soundscapes. I love their name and their tag is "Changing how the future sounds." Soundscapes is off the radar, despite the fact they're one of the oldest El Sistema-inspired programs and they launched in under five months! I watched every instrument family, choir, and orchestra today along with a delicious Indian lunch and meeting about their brochure, along with helping for a bibliography for a STEM->STEAM (Science Technology Engineering (ARTS) Math) grant for which they're applying from the National Science Foundation, and the open house I am planning taking place next Thursday.
The woman I am staying with is a local music teacher and incredibly generous. I'm thankful to be exploring the more "hip" part of town tomorrow, though I found out I am by the country's second largest park and it is autumn all over again so definitely checking that out! I'm teaching my first-ever strings class on Monday where we will definitely be working on "pizza hand" and intonation. It will be a good experience for me, a chance to practice my Lorrie Heagy skills, and a chance for me to assure myself I know enough about strings to do so and get a musical outcome since I have the kids who already know how to play.
For all of you musicians: Can you remember the very first moment you ever played in an ensemble? To be quite honest, I cannot. But I do remember the first time I was part of an ensemble with so much passion, talent, and high level of playing that it was almost spiritual, and I am pretty sure I got to that point because of my previous, less memorable ensemble experiences. Last week I shared and helped facilitate the first string ensemble experience of our JAMM kids. It was a bit chaotic, confusing, and most likely not at all memorable for anyone – except for me.
Up until then, the violinists were used to playing in unison, standing up. As the cellos only entered the JAMM picture a few weeks ago, our cellists had held their instrument twice before and were still learning the open strings. In retrospect, we (myself and another JAMM teacher) threw too many new things at them at once: chairs, stands, a semi circle formation, more than one instrument in the group, and more than one line being played. The cellos looked at me anxiously when I said we were going to play the Can Can and one boy raised his hand, looking especially stressed out, and said that they didn’t really even know any notes on the cello. The violins that were supposed to play the harmony forgot how it went, and the violins on melody wanted to play it at a tempo that no one could keep up with. When I do it again, I will do about a dozen things differently.
But we did have a Moment. It lasted about five seconds, when the cellos were playing their open D strings and the first violins slowed down and the second violins all remembered their part at the same time. I saw a couple kids look up, as if they weren’t sure why what we were playing sounded like real music for a fleeting instance. They looked down again once we all got back off track. It was a Moment, though, that makes it all worth trying again, and doing the dozen things differently. It was the perfect example of everyone offering a small part of themselves to create something that makes so much sense - and sounds so beautiful - when it’s complete.
This past week I conducted my
fieldwork/residency at The YOURS (Youth Orchestras United Rita Sima) Project in
Chicago, an El Sistema-inspired program supported by the People’s Music School.
Former Sistema Fellow and Program Director, Albert
Oppenheimer, has been absolutely wonderful at showing me around The
YOURS Project and the great El Sistema-inspired values that they actively apply
with their students, community and parents.
While at The YOURS Project, I was able to
observe the YOURS String Orchestra sectional with intern teaching artist
Annarita, from Loyola, preparing Vivaldi’s Concerto for Four Violins. I
remember being the same age as these YOURS musicians playing this piece and
loving it! Good music is good music!
AHA moment #1:
During my observations, Annarita asked the
ensemble if they wanted to rehearse the piece regardless of some soloists being
absent. With soloists missing, several string players were eager and excited to
play this piece, and energetically volunteered to play the solo part. Instantly,
seating order was rearranged, friends shared music and the piece began! YOURS
students filled in where necessary, sight-reading solo parts and playing
through this brilliant piece!
These students loved this piece and more
importantly loved playing together because they stepped in where necessary for
the sake of the whole group. For them, it was about the music, creating
something beautiful that they could all enjoy and be a part of something
together! The YOURS project is not only developing great musical excellence,
but also supporting and nurturing flexible and well rounded musicians who are
actively challenged as both orchestra members and soloists.
Reflecting on my own musical experience as
a junior high school student, I was never in a group where the orchestra members
were valued as soloists. The flexibility of everyone being both a soloist and
orchestra member was not fostered at the early stages of my musical education.
But to witness the depth and significance of these YOURS string players being
so versatile was inspirational. These “fill-in” musicians were supported and
encouraged to take a shot at being a soloist. It did not matter if the playing
was perfect. These musicians were united playing Vivaldi because it’s beautiful
and good music, but more importantly, they were having fun! Continue reading on Albert Oppenheimer's blog.
It can be difficult to describe Sistema work. We love to use phrases like "using music as a vehicle
for social change," or "social change through music education." These all sound great, but was does that really mean? Are we social
service organizations? Are we conservatories? Are we childcare
centers? And, what are our goals? Are we producing the next
generation of concertmasters and soloists? Are we just trying to keep
kids off the street? Are we helping kids graduate from high school and
have productive futures?
Here's the simple answer: Yes.
We have multiple personality
And, you know what? That's
awesome. Let me tell you why.
Let's start our journey down the
dissociative identity trail at the People's Music
School in Chicago's Uptown neighborhood. This organization has
provided free music instruction for Chicago's youth since 1975. People's
Music School has multiple personality disorder. It has two branches:
onsite programming, conducted at PMS' building in Uptown; and offsite
programming, under the auspices of the YOURS Project. Onsite programming
focuses on private/small group lessons, music theory and composition. YOURS teaches nearly exclusively through group instruction. Onsite
programming occurs 3 days a week; YOURS project, 5 days a week.
Both programs offer free music education to Chicago's
children. They have slightly different ways of doing it. Is that a
bad thing? No! Are you kidding me? People's Music School is
offering two different options in order to best suit the needs of the greatest
number of children and families! That's brilliance! Continue reading on my personal blog.
After spending several days
at Woodlawn Community Center meeting all the members of Rhode Island Fiddle
Project, the teachers, the kids, and a few of the Center's staff, I am filled
to the brim with enthusiasm and inspiration to enter this same field of work!
Since September, I have been
attending New England Conservatory as a Sistema Fellow, part of a post graduate
program that is designed to teach us (there are 10 of us total) the ins and
outs of developing non-profit programs that provide free after-school music
education specifically in regions where it's lacking.
Because of my background in
folk music, I was especially drawn to Rachel's program and eager to see first
hand how she has been so successful in maintaining her members (with the intent
of growing the program to include the 35 students already on the waiting list),
and inspiring youth to love playing the fiddle...
Former El Sistema Lehigh Valley teaching
artist and photographer Nienke Izurieta has finished compiling a documentary
of the DHH programming El Sistema Lehigh Valley did last summer in
conjunction with Camp HERO, Music Therapy Associates, Youth Education in
the Arts (YEA), and percussionist Marcus Santos. I want to share the video
with you all!
A big thank you to everybody in the field
who is doing incredibly great work. I hope that this very short pilot
program can help us all think about how we can continue to engage in the
great work already being done, while simultaneously considering how we can
effectively engage with special needs children!
Steven Liu Program Director, El Sistema Lehigh
Valley Sistema Fellow '11