Wednesday, December 1, 2010
What does it take to start something from scratch? Entrepreneur, teacher and arts consultant Greg Kandel, who has been working with us on our strategic plans, offered us some advice. If you are going to embark on the exciting journey of founding an organization, you should have:
People who believe in you
Willingness to fail
A sense of adventure
Something driving you, a strong reason for doing it
Tenacity, the ability to hold onto something you believe in
Self-confidence, either by nature and/or because of past success
A great idea about what you want to do and how you're going to accomplish it
A healthy dose of humility, the ability to seek and value the advice and opinions of others
Recently, we have been talking about how to achieve musical excellence in our nucleos, without sacrificing accessibility and inclusion. Here is a short list that the Fellows came up during one of our discussions (this is not an exhaustive list):
I can't resist putting up a little more about Baltimore. Here is a slideshow of pictures from the trip:
Friday, November 26, 2010
Monday, November 22, 2010
Friday, November 12, 2010
As I start to move beyond dreaming about my perfect nucleo, and take practical steps toward planning it, I'm forced to think about what are actually reasonable goals. If I had unlimited resources, my nucleo would "have it all," but as that is not something that is likely to happen in my first year, I've started thinking about what would be truly important characteristics of my future nucleo, and what could possibly be expendable (without forgetting, of course, what I would do if I miraculously did have unlimited resources). There are two pieces of advice that I've heard many times over the past few weeks that I believe will help me in deciding how to realistically structure my nucleo. They are:
1. Start Small
2. Identify your Core Values
With that in mind, here are some preliminary thoughts about what my nucleo could possibly look like next year and in the future. These are ideas that will continue to evolve over the next few months.
In its pilot year, my program serves 25 underprivileged children who are living in the neighborhood surrounding the community center where we hold classes. There are classes Monday through Friday after school until 6pm, and the community center is seen as a safe and fun place where children are constantly engaged, learning and building relationships. Our teachers are our greatest strength. They are completely committed to the students. Working here is not a “job” for them, but a way of life. They take both their role as an artist and as a teacher very seriously, with the well-being and growth of their students as the first priority. Each student receives individual attention on his or her instrument, as well as a strong base in music literacy, taught in a fun but practical way. By playing in a string orchestra, instrument choir, and chamber music groups, students learn the importance of collaboration with others. There are frequent concerts given by the teachers, which are community events, attended by families, students and others in the neighborhood. The children also perform often, both formally and informally.
Ten years after the launch of our program, we have become a positive force for social change within our community, serving over 100 children. In our new location we have a beautiful performance space with frequent concerts given by our teachers, as well as visits from many guest artist who give masterclasses and performances. Our first “class” of students are just beginning to graduate high school, having been part of our organization for the past ten years, and all are starting some form of higher education or career. These students have become role models to the younger students, and the pride of their families and communities. We currently have a retention rate of over 90% for our students, even as we continue to target families with great need for support and resources. We have a very long waiting list. We are known throughout the city and hope to open two more locations next fall. Our students perform frequently throughout the city and surrounding areas. There are also frequent field trips with the students to see concerts.
Thursday, November 4, 2010
Thursday, October 28, 2010
Thursday, October 21, 2010
Sunday, October 10, 2010
After an intense week of classes, presentations, introductions, long conversations and meetings, I found myself stuck in Friday-before-long-weekend traffic on the bus to New York. Only one hour out of Boston and barely moving, I knew it would be a long trip. I lay back and took a deep breath. It felt like the first one I had taken since Monday morning, my first day of the Abreu Fellows Program at New England Conservatory. As the bus inched forward it seemed that time had suddenly slowed down, giving me a chance to try to wrap my mind around everything that had happened and everything I had learned in the past five days.
What is El Sistema? Why do we believe so passionately in it? What will its role be in the United States? These questions and many others were spinning through my head in an incomprehensible jumble along with everything I had learned that week. In order to begin to sort out my thoughts, I decided to look back in time to when I first became aware of El Sistema. Why it had drawn me in so quickly and completely?
While teaching cello at a small, family-run music school in Cuenca, Ecuador, I had begun to think about the impact that classical music can have on the lives of the children who study instruments. When the director of the music school showed me the film “Tocar y Luchar” I was in disbelief. Here was the very idea that I had just barely begun to grasp, developed and thriving in Venezuela. Classical music was transforming the lives of children, their families, and their communities. This music program, called “El Sistema” was better than anything I could have imagined. Hundreds of thousands of Venezuela’s most underprivileged children, many growing up in unthinkable poverty, were given free music lessons six days a week from a very young age, and it was having an affect not only on school attendance and crime rates, but on people’s enthusiasm for classical music.
At the core of el Sistema is a symbiotic relationship between classical music and social justice. This relationship fascinates me. In the US, classical music is often assumed to be something for the elite. In Venezuela, there are over 200 orchestras, and classical music is heard everywhere by everyone. El Sistema holds the key of how to reach out to a larger public through classical music. Going into a community that might not have had much exposure to classical music and giving outreach concerts only works to a certain point. Classical music needs to stem from within these communities, thereby allowing them to take ownership of it.
As the bus was pulling into New York, I realized that I had barely made any progress in distilling my thoughts about El Sistema. I was looking forward to a short vacation, but knew that I wouldn’t be sad when it was time to go back to Boston and continue classes…. as long as there was no traffic.