This week was a HUGE reality check for me and helped me to differentiate between what is ideal and what is the reality of an El Sistema-styled program in the US:
Dan Trahey from the Baltimore Symphony's OrchKids came and shared his knowledge about creating a nucleo in one of Baltimore's roughest neighborhoods. His team is doing an amazing job with these kids and serves as a model nucleo we all could learn from. They partnered with the Harriet Tubman school in Baltimore and have created a safe haven for the kids to grow musically. They created a five year plan, started kids in the 1st grade and each year, more students are added to the program. The students are engaged each day after school in various musical activities, fed a snack and get their homework done. Check out the video on their website which does an awesome job of explaining what they do. I don't know if I want my program to be under the umbrella of a symphony orchestra, but I would want a strong partnership with the nearest professional orchestra.
Monday afternoon, Michael Melcher, a prominent leadership coach from NYC shared tons of ideas about effective leadership and some tough questions I hope to answer throughout this fellowship program: What is the point of leadership? How would you define your leadership brand? What would you like to be known in the future?
We also had Roberto Zambrano come share his knowledge of El Sistema. He is currently a regional coordinator for El Sistema and really knows that organization inside and out. Tanya Maggi, who works for NEC's partnership department, shared her extensive experience with building an impressive network of partnerships in Boston and beyond. Nick Skinner, also from OrchKids, worked with us about the "nucleos ecosystem" and managing teachers and staff. I'll be sure to steal a few of his ideas!
The week ended with two amazing seminars: One from Daphne Griffin, who works in the city's mayor office as the executive director of Boston Centers for Youth and Families. The needs of Boston families and communities are the needs of every American family and community. Of all the programs she discussed the city has initiated or support, none of them compare in depth to what an El Sistema-styled program would offer. Daphne has seen the power of El Sistema with her eyes... she knows. It's our job now to influence those points to the communities we'll go back to next year.
The week ended with a powerful presentation by Ben Cameron of the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation. It was a sobering presentation but has really encouraged me to completely adjust my approach of promoting the importance of this El Sistema USA movement. The arts are not failing: Most kids I know are singing, rapping, writing poems, creating videos to post on YouTube, spray-painting on buildings, drawing on subway ads, marching in a band, and much more... We need to harness this energy and use it to give kids a great outlet to express themselves. American culture = football, baseball and basketball. There are basketball courts every 2 miles and built in every school. We know how hard it is to play basketball - we participated, we watched our friends participate, we watched Michael Jordan prove what we thought was impossible. Yes I know... there is not a music facility ever 2 miles, but we can do our part to make what we do more participatory. I've worked with lots of orchestras from the Atlanta Symphony, Philadelphia Orchestra to the Ocean City Pops Orchestra to present various education programs. I've put on costumes to act out "Little Red Riding Hood" and brought kids on all types of musical journeys... they can watch all they want, but nothing is more powerful than having them DO the music making. While those kids make the music, their families and friends will watch them through this process, making instrumental and vocal music weave itself into our culture.