The recent Reframing El Sistema conference in Baltimore featured a rich program of both scholars and practitioners discussing the potential directions in which El Sistema-inspired work is or might be heading. As someone who has been actively involved in a variety of El Sistema convenings over the past several years (e.g. Take a Stand, the ISME El Sistema Special Interest Group, the El Sistema and the Alternatives conference in London), it was exciting to see an international cohort of individuals doing work around El Sistema come together in one place.
Having graduated from the Sistema Fellows Program three years ago, and being reminded of the fact that we are coming up on the ten-year anniversary of the Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra’s seminal BBC Proms debut, my goal as a conference participant was to listen to what questions were being asked in discussion, what people wanted to continue talking about, what people were most excited to hear presentations about. Upon reflection, one thing that continues to stand out to me was the strong through line of thinking about evaluation practices in relation to El Sistema-inspired work.
Two compelling thoughts about evaluation continue to be at the front of my mind: Carol Frierson-Campbell’s overview of the different vantages and objectives that characterize researchers as compared to practitioners, and Michael Raiber’s statement that we best be careful in stating what El Sistema-inspired work can achieve, because we don’t want to end up having to hold Music responsible if those stated objectives aren’t obtained. I can’t remember what example he gave, but a hypothetical case would be one in which we say that our programs improve math skills. Then, if math scores don’t in fact improve, how might we have unintentionally held Music solely responsible?
Both of these points contain important truths, but I also want to propose that we shift the paradigm in thinking about the relationships between theory, curriculum development, and evaluation (and research more generally). What happens when we place these three parts of praxis in an ongoing and overlapping cycle, rather than delineating them as of separate concern? To continue with my hypothetical scenario, if an improvement in math scores is identified as a serious objective, and even in the case that it fails to be attained, how might we then more intentionally think about how music curriculum may in fact relate to mathematical technique? In tandem, how can practitioners guide researchers about theoretical and evaluation directions based on their experiences with specific students in specific communities? Additionally, how can research findings be taken into account to deliberately bring innovation to curriculum?
Dennie Palmer Wolf spoke to this in her comment that evaluation measures and instruments need to be continually critically appraised and re-shaped to be most appropriate to the students they are being used on. For example, she proposed speaking with students before implementing a survey to ask how they interpret the questions on the survey tool or why they might be inclined to respond in certain ways. Indeed, one of Dennie’s responses described her interest in thinking about cosmopolitanism as a direction to move in with regard to evaluation measures, based on her view of the learning and experiences of students she has encountered at El Sistema-inspired programs.
This resonates with my own work as a doctoral student at the City University of New York, thinking through theoretical frameworks of cosmopolitanism and how potential curricula of a cosmopolitan music education might be relevant to El Sistema-inspired work—as I have presented on at other El Sistema conferences. I think that the cosmopolitan ability to negotiate different cultures and identities is something which many El Sistema students I’ve encountered around the country do already bring to the table, and can be honed as a valuable tool for dealing with social injustices. Furthermore, I think cultivating such a cosmopolitan sensibility is something that can be done aptly through music education, specifically a curriculum that represents multiple music cultures. While my inquiry has taken me through different theories and pedagogical ideas around cosmopolitanism, Dennie’s remark reminded me that measures for evaluating cosmopolitanism as an outcome was something that I have thus far neglected to think enough about.
If we take an idea like cosmopolitanism and think more dialogically around it in all aspects of praxis, we can continuously (re)frame questions like:
How do our experiences in the classroom indicate that this is an important objective to have?
What does this evaluation point out about how we might change our pedagogy? What evaluation measures actually correspond to the pedagogies we are practicing?
How do the specific experiences of students in this community differentiate from and contribute to existing theories of cosmopolitanism?
Are the evaluations still pointing this out as a need in this community, or what other objectives might we consider focusing on?
Many left Baltimore grappling with the questions that were particularly magnified throughout the weekend: what exactly is El Sistema? And are we going through an identity crisis? In his own conference reflection, musicologist Geoff Baker writes that a movement ought to have more unified coherence around its goals. Indeed, during his presentation at the conference, Eric Booth presented a fascinating rundown of varied El Sistema-inspired philosophies and mission statements around the world. I think both notions—unity and variety—are compelling, with benefits as well as drawbacks. In either case, though, I want to encourage more thinking about objectives and mission not only theoretically, but as an ongoing, dynamic process and cycle that links theory, practice, and evaluation.
Elaine Chang Sandoval, Sistema Fellow ‘13
 As we were reminded during Geoff Baker’s presentation.
 This is undoubtedly thanks to the presence of such prominent scholars as Dennie Wolf and Steven Holochwost of WolfBrown, Shirley Brice Heath, and Kate Camara, as well as the research focuses of conference organizers Larry Scripp and Brian Kaufman – all have been involved in varying capacities in evaluations of El Sistema-inspired work.
 Coordinator of Music Education at William and Patterson University (New Jersey), scholarship on urban music education.
 She drew on the useful piece: Neumann, Pallas, and Peterson. 1999. “Preparing education practitioners to practice education research.” In Issues in education research: Problems and possibilities, eds. Condliffe Lagemann and Shulman. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. 247-288.
 Busey Chair of Music Education at Oklahoma City University and Director of Teacher Support at El Sistema Oklahoma.
 From his work with Tricia Tunstall, to be published in their forthcoming book.