NEC’s decision to reinvest in the fifty alumni of the Sistema Fellows Program created an exciting opportunity to deepen the relationships that had begun on campus. The creation of the Resource Center also presented me with an opportunity to learn the stories of the Fellows from the first three classes who had departed NEC before I arrived in 2012.
Over the past two years, I have built relationships with roughly eighty percent of the Fellows, providing access to learning and networking opportunities, professional development, funding from NEC for research and travel, emotional support, and career advice.
What have I learned through these relationships? Unsurprisingly, working in the El Sistema-inspired music education space is an extremely challenging career choice, requiring passion and commitment in addition to skills such as teaching artistry, program management, and fundraising. From observing Fellows as they negotiate their second, third, fourth, fifth, or even sixth year in the field, I can confirm that sustaining an El Sistema-inspired program’s growth — after the adrenaline rush of the first year or two — is even more challenging than starting a program from scratch.
It is evident that the success of this work depends entirely upon the specific people involved. There is very little “stuff” — other than essentials such as instruments, music stands, and snacks — listed in the operating budgets of El Sistema-inspired programs. The motivation, preparation, and perseverance of an individual who enters this field are determinative of success both in organizational leadership and in delivering sustained meaningful experiences to students. To be able to recruit, train, and retain talented and dedicated music professionals is, therefore, critically important.
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Director, Sistema Fellowship Resource Center