After leading four performances with the St. Luke’s Philharmonia in Oklahoma, Jose-Luis heads to Connecticut to guest conduct the esteemed Hartford Symphony Orchestra. The concert is to be held on May 16th at the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts and is part of the organization’s flagship education programs. He will conduct a repertoire that includes Beethoven's Fifth Symphony; Mendelssohn’s evocative Nocturne from Midsummer Night’s Dream, and Copland’s Hoe-Down from Rodeo. “I am delighted to be able to work with some of the finest musician’s in New England, Jose-Luis said, “the orchestra has a rich tradition of musical excellence and a strong commitment to making the experience of music accessible to all.” As part of the event, Jose-Luis will also present a dynamic pre-concert workshop to a few hundred students and their teachers. Tickets available at: http://www.hartfordsymphony.org/
Announcing a new course for OCU students and learning opportunity for El Sistema-inspired music educators.
El Sistema: Social Action Through Music (MUED 2071)
Enrollment now open at Oklahoma City University, Fall 2013
About the Course:
Social action through music refers to the ideal that 21st century musicians play a part as leaders in the development of a thriving civil society. This course prepares musicians to envision artistic careers that create public value, transform communities, and dignify the human condition. The course focuses on the philosophy and practice of El Sistema, Venezuela’s revolutionary music education program. The course meets once a week.
Qualified students may also seek guided internships (optional) with El Sistema Oklahoma, a program of St. Luke’s United Methodist Church, in partnership with the Wanda L. Bass School of Music at Oklahoma City University and The Foundation for Oklahoma City Public Schools. The "open-source" course will be made available via video webcast to music educators across the United States and internationally.
-Students will learn to discern the practical and affective capacities of music through critical thinking and practical immersion into its social, philosophical, ethical, and spiritual constructs as exemplified by El Sistema and other relevant 21st century models and frameworks.
-Develop preliminary aptitudes for teaching and learning in community arts education settings; and advocating for music as an instrument for social transformation.
-Envision new and innovative self-concepts for professional engagement as musicians, citizens, artists, and scholars.
Instructor: Jose Luis Hernandez-Estrada, M.Mus.
Sistema Fellow '12 (New England Conservatory)
Social Media Flyer: https://smore.com/6yk0
*If you are not an OCU student but would like to learn more about how to partake in the course via informal distance-learning (non-credit), email me directly at email@example.com.
Photo Credit: Peter Dammann
Gustavo Dudamel, Jose-Luis Hernandez, y Jose Antonio Abreu en São Paulo.
El Maestro mexicano Carlos Chavez, quien fuera uno de los primeros colaboradores de El Sistema decía: “La revolución en música es, en suma, la lucha del arte útil contra el arte inútil; la lucha del arte para todos." La orquesta Simón Bolívar de Venezuela es en parte símbolo de la magnitud de esa misma revolución musical. Es también, un símbolo de lo que puede ser posible cuando se trabaja en equipo. Es una gran familia. Una orquesta Latinoamericana para el mundo. Durante dos semanas fuí testigo y partícipe de la escencia misma que la caracteriza. Los adjetivos nunca seran suficientes—ahí colma la solidaridad, la audacia, y una ética de trabajo que sobrepasa el mas alto profesionalismo. Esa orquesta del presente tiene historia. De casi cuarenta años atrás.
Es una historia de enaltación humanística.
Plasmada en una nueva forma de pensar del quehacer artístico y por ende nueva formas y razones de hacer música. Ese paradigma, el hecho de hacer y compartir música dentro de un mismo esquema de elocución es lo que distingue a los jóvenes maestros de El Sistema. El que toca Stravinsky con maestría en el Teatro Colón también comparte su arte dando clases en su ciudad natal de Táchira. Aquella violista de Puerto Cabello que toca Revueltas haciendo relucir la estirpe misma de la Latinoamericanidad—esgrime con su arco un compromiso latente a favor de su raza cósmica.
En nuestros tiempos, ¿para que servirá el arte? Para unir a las personas, para enaltecer el espíritu, para aprender a ser mejores. Esa es la revolución que el Maestro Abreu ha forjado y la que todos nosotros en esa gran orquesta (en la que caben miles) estamos llamados a cumplir.
12 Abril del 2013, Bogotá.
Embajadores y jefes de gobierno en conferencia de prensa.
Hoy, a eso de las 11 de la mañana en el despacho principal del moderno Palácio do Buriti se concretaba un decreto histórico. El Gobernador de Brasilia Agnelo Queiroz y la primera dama, afectuosamente tomados de la mano, le expresaban al fundador de El Sistema (flanqueado por un selecto grupo de embajadores, oficiales de gobierno, y otros invitados especiales) su deseo de hacer de la educación musical una política de estado en su gobierno. La meta—convertir la música en un derecho universal para mas de medio millón de escolares en el distrito federal. Ellos comenzaran ese sueño en Septiembre de este año atendiendo a 132,000 estudiantes con un plan ya estructurado y financiado. Con humildad y un semblante lleno de esperanza, el gobernador expresaba como una educación musical inspirada en El Sistema podría ayudar a erradicar la violencia, la pobreza, y la deserción escolar. En un dialogo franco el mismo Maestro Abreu le auguraba éxito y le compartía como un proyecto musical de acción social bien articulado no solamente era “una garantía de vida comunitaria para los niños y jóvenes mas pobres, si no también, una garantía del estado para formar una ciudadanía plena.”
Se hablo de ese proyecto como revolucionario. Otros maestros de la música Brasileños comentaban que era un momento histórico no solo para Brasilia si no para el país entero. La firma de ese decreto no paso desapercibida. La misma Presidenta del Brasil, la excelentísima Dilma Rousseff, luego de condecorar al Maestro Abreu con la Orden Nacional del Crucero del Sur, se dio la tarea de asistir al concierto de la Orquesta Simón Bolívar en el Teatro Nacional esa misma noche; y la orquesta, vistiendo medallas con los colores de Venezuela le dedico el himno nacional de Brazil (haciendo que el ambiente se sintiera como el preludio de una gran final de un mundial de futbol).
Ya se habla de la formación de una gran orquesta binacional que sea ejemplo de la suma de voluntades y de la consagración del trabajo en equipo. "La música es un instrumento irreemplazable para unir a las personas,” dice el Maestro Abreu. Y en ese marco, unirá a dos países que podrán atravez de la música, imaginar nuevas formas de lograr acuerdos. Completar la inmensa tarea que se han trazado no será nada fácil; pero existe una voluntad política verdadera.
Eso es un buen comienzo. Y gran ejemplo.
9 de Abril del 2013, Brasília.
La orquesta Simón Bolívar llego a São Paulo vía Buenos Aires en un vuelo privado de Lufthansa cargado de instrumentos y de grandes sueños. “Que tengan una bonita estancia y mucho éxito en los conciertos,” dijo la sobrecargo al despedirnos. Con un día de descanso (cosa que muy pocas veces se suscita en las giras), los músicos llegaron renovados a la gran urbe Brasileña. Otro país, otro publico—pero también conocedor y exigente. El primer ensayo previo a los dos conciertos que se celebran aquí transcurrió con la intensidad que caracteriza a la orquesta y a su director. Tras los primeros compases de la Consagración de la Primavera, la acústica de la sala (una antigua estación de tren) gusto a todos; especialmente al fagotista principal que le inspiraba un timbre muy especial en su solo introductorio. Todo sonaba perfectamente claro, los pianos nítidos; los fortes expansivos. El Maestro Dudamel supo aprovechar muy bien las cualidades de la sala y a su vez les pidió a sus músicos mucho mas disciplina rítmica y calidad de sonido. Este como todos, era un concierto importante. Debía de sonar como si fuera “el primero o el ultimo” que la orquesta fuera a dar.
En las recientes publicaciones alusivas a la gira, se ha descrito a la Bolívar como una orquesta audaz. Me llama mucho la atención el adjetivo. Audaz, según el diccionario de la Real Academia Española, se reduce a atrevido. Y si, es una orquesta muy atrevida que hace repertorios sumamente difíciles. Y valiente también, diría yo. Pareciera no le tuvieran miedo a ningún tipo de limite—seguramente por que ese concepto no figura en su estirpe. Su lograda perfección nunca es el fin si no bien el resultado derivado de esos dos elementos—valor y audacia. Esa misma audacia de lo indecible (por que la música se siente) es lo que provoca. Signo de todo eso es el publico incontenible. Se le escucha en el furor de sus aplausos, en el brillo de sus ojos. Es algo muy especial.
Mas aun es la cualidad empática con la que atravez de los años se ha forjado el carácter de su sonido tan propio y particular. Durante el intermedio del concierto en São Paulo, el Maestro Abreu me compartía que es “la solidaridad, y el amor incondicional que se profesan entre si los integrantes de la orquesta lo que define sus cualidades estéticas.” Para ser mas concisos, “la orquesta se ve reflejada colectivamente en un solo ser,” decía el maestro. Era hermoso ver tras bambalinas como antes del concierto Ismel Campos (el violista principal) tocaba a dúo música de Bach con uno de sus compañeros. O como Claudio Hernandez comentaba en su cuenta de Twitter el orgullo sin igual que sentía por sus compañeros tras finalizar el concierto.
De todo eso se trata la música. Eso es tan importante como un gran triunfo en una noche de concierto.
7 de Abril del 2013, São Paulo.
El Maestro Abreu, antes de iniciar el ensayo en el Teatro Colón.
Eran las dos y media de la tarde; casi doscientos músicos íbamos rumbo al mítico Teatro Colón. El trayecto del hotel al teatro fueron escasos 10 minutos. Todos en silencio. La algarabía que caracteriza a los miembros de la Orquesta Simón Bolívar de Venezuela o la Bolívar (como cariñosamente se le llama) quedo congelada en el salón del almuerzo. Por ahí, un músico solfeaba los patrones rítmicos de la Danse Sacrale de Stravinsky (tan complejos y tan riesgosos). Otro escuchaba el Quinteto para Piano de Shostakovich a todo volumen a través de sus audifonos. Cada quien con su propio ritual para prepararse. Ya no había tiempo de pensar en otra cosa mas que en el concierto—en el reto.
El Teatro, recientemente renovado, es un símbolo nacional y motivo de orgullo para los Argentinos. Ha sido escenario de grandes conciertos—las variaciones Goldberg con Barenboim, la Orquesta Nacional de Francia con Charles Dutoit; sendas y ya legendarias representaciones operísticas con Maria Callas y Enrico Caruso. La Bolívar ya había estado aquí. Bajo la dirección del Maestro Abreu y recientemente con Gustavo Dudamel quien ofreciera una Séptima de Mahler excepcional, y según me relato el concertino Alejandro Carreño, de memoria (inclusive la orquesta). Pero en esta ocasión el concierto quedo sobrevendido y se tuvo que abrir la sala durante el ensayo general. Ahí estuvieron los niños, los jóvenes músicos de Buenos Aires; sus maestros y otros conocedores de la música culta. Los asientos de platea para el concierto rondaban en los quinientos pesos. Pero todos ellos pudieron apreciar a la orquesta sin costo alguno.
A las tres y media en punto, el Maestro Abreu subió al podium y en un momento muy emotivo compartió la reseña previa del diario La Nación:
"Juntos estarán, y podrían ser nombrados en cualquier orden, la mejor orquesta latinoamericana (y entre las del mundo también), el director joven más talentoso y espectacular del planeta, el compositor más trascendente y cardinal de su tiempo (y, tal vez, de todo el siglo pasado) y uno de los compositores más talentosos y originales de nuestro continente. Sinceramente, pocas veces se da una conjunción tan extraordinaria. Podemos recordar infinidad de visitas al país de prestigiásemos y fantásticos organismos sinfónicos con directores sobresalientes. Pero pocas veces, o quizá nunca, una orquesta arriba a estas tierras con un programa tan sustancial, trascendental, contundente y riesgoso como el que hoy traerán Dudamel y sus muchachos."
Y comenzó el ensayo.
Cuatro horas de tremendo esfuerzo. “Si no se cansan, entonces esto no valdrá la pena, no funcionara,” les dijo Dudamel haciendo alusión a la coda de la Consagración de la Primavera de Stravinsky (el numero 177 de la partitura). La orquesta debía de dar todo, incluso en el ensayo. En la décima fila del teatro, Joshua Dos Santos (otro gran talento de El Sistema) y yo estuvimos muy atentos a cada gesto del Maestro Dudamel, a cada sonido que emanaba de la orquesta. Los balances debían de quedar perfectos. Había que reubicar a las percusiones en la Noche de Jaranas, el segundo movimiento de la Noche de los Mayas de Revueltas. Los encores estuvieron muy bien cuidados tambien. La "Muerte de amor" de Tristan e Isolda de Wagner recibio particular atención, sobre todo por la densidad de las texturas orquestales, los tiempos, los silencios. Los momentos cumbres debian sonar, como "olas de fuego."
Y al final, en el mayor momento de inspiración, Dudamel le dijo a sus músicos: “La Orquesta Simón Bolívar debe reconocerse visionaria; como la primera línea de batalla de un gran sueño, alimentado por la conciencia del trabajo en equipo.”
Por eso la orquesta cimbró el Teatro Colón. Por eso es ejemplo para todos.
4 de Abril del 2013, Buenos Aires.
The Simon Bolivar Orchestra of Venezuela.
At the invitation of El Sistema’s founder Dr. Jose Antonio Abreu, young Mexican conductor Jose Luis Hernandez-Estrada joins the Simon Bolivar Orchestra of Venezuela for their upcoming Latin American tour. Under the artistic leadership of Gustavo Dudamel, the tour takes the acclaimed orchestra to the principal concert halls of Buenos Aires, São Paulo, Brasilia, and Bogota. “I am honored to play a part in helping advance the ideals of El Sistema. This will be an inspiring tour and a wonderful opportunity to learn from Maestro Dudamel and his orchestra—a shining emblem of excellence, joy, and of the future of music,” Jose Luis said. For their April 1-12 tour, the orchestra performs a repertoire that includes Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, Revuelta’s La Noche de los Mayas, and Beethoven’s epic Fifth Symphony.
Por invitación del maestro y fundador de El Sistema Dr. José Antonio Abreu, el joven director de orquesta mexicano José Luis Hernandez-Estrada se une a la proxima gira Latinoamericana de la Orquesta Simón Bolívar de Venezuela. Bajo el liderazgo artístico de Gustavo Dudamel, la gira llevará a la aclamada orquesta a las salas principales de Buenos Aires, São Paulo, Brasilia, y Bogota. “Es un honor el poder coadyuvar a impulsar los ideales de El Sistema. La gira sera una experiencia inspiradora y una gran oportunidad de compartir y aprender del Maestro Dudamel y su orquesta—hermoso emblema de excelencia, alegría, y del futuro de la música,” comento José Luis. Del 1 al 12 de Abril, la orquesta presenta un repertorio que incluye La Consagración de la Primavera de Stravinsky, La Noche de los Mayas de Revueltas, y la Quinta Sinfonía de Beethoven.
The Wanda L. Bass School of Music at Oklahoma City University will present a symposium on the revolutionary El Sistema entitled, “Music Transforms,” on April 13. The symposium is open to the public and encourages the participation of educators, musicians, and community leaders. Registration is free and includes lunch.
“Music Transforms” will explore El Sistema’s innovative approaches to music education, community engagement, and social transformation. Focusing on the history, philosophy, and practice of the Venezuelan program; the symposium seeks to inspire musicians, educators, and community leaders to embrace music as a potent force for building a more prosperous future in the United States and beyond.
The featured speakers are Jamie Bernstein, internationally renowned narrator, writer, and broadcaster; Christine Witkowski, Director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s YOLA at HOLA program (Gustavo Dudamel’s signature program); Stanford Thompson, CEO of Play on, Philly! and chair of the US National Alliance of El Sistema-inspired programs; and Jose Luis Hernandez-Estrada, classical conductor, author, and Executive Director/Head of Learning of El Sistema Oklahoma.
The half-day symposium at OCU is co-sponsored by El Sistema Oklahoma, a program of St. Luke’s United Methodist Church in partnership with OCU.
All lecture and keynote presentations to be made available worldwide via Itunes University.
In 1975, José Antonio Abreu, a Venezuelan economist and musician, founded El Sistema, a revolutionary music education and social action project that has changed the lives of thousands of his country’s youth. In 2009, Maestro Abreu was awarded the TED Prize and was granted a wish: to identify “gifted young musicians, passionate about their art and social justice,” who would take his vision to the world. Upon his recommendation, the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston founded the Sistema Fellows program.
In his book, “Aesthetics of Generosity: El Sistema, Music Education, and Social Change,” author and 2012 Sistema Fellow Jose Luis Hernandez-Estrada, shares his journey into the heart of El Sistema as he uncovers how music can change lives. For this book, Jose Luis draws from his experiences as an artist-in-residence in over a dozen núcleos or learning centers throughout Venezuela.
In thirty-two “beautifully written vignettes,” Jose Luis captures aspects of El Sistema’s history, philosophy, and practice. Filled with heartwarming stories, personal reflections, and observations, the book seeks to provide a perspective to the building of a “new era in the teaching of music, in which social, communal, spiritual, and vindicatory aims become a beacon and a goal for a vast social mission.”
Jose Luis is a classical conductor, educator, and speaker who believes in music and the arts as powerful agents for social transformation. He earned music degrees from Texas Christian University and the University of Texas Pan-American. He performs and teaches around the world. For more info on the author visit his website at www.joseherstrada.com
5" x 8" (12.7 x 20.32 cm)
Black & White on White paper
BISAC: Music / Instruction & Study / General
To order copies of the book visit:
Maestro Muti with colleagues from the Orquesta Sinfonica Nacional at Bellas Artes.
Maestro Muti doesn’t think the conducting profession should exist. A lot of times conductors “get in the way” of the music. Evoking the words of Von Karajan, he said: “Only when conductors let the orchestra conduct their conductor, then he has really mastered the art of leading.” I was sitting in the front row at Mexico City’s sumptuous Palacio de Bellas Artes, being a student of Muti, basking in every ounce of wisdom from the legendary Maestro.
As he led us in a lecture and reading of Mozart’s Symphony No. 41—filled with anecdotes and beautiful gestures—he would often stop the orchestra and turn to us: Dear ragazzi “Your arms are an extension of your minds,” everything should be done musically. “Anyone can beat in four, but have you really come to know Mozart, in a metaphysical way?” he asked. “Every sound should be uniform,” “shape everything,” and “no accents in Mozart!”
Maestro Muti loves opera, on and off the podium. He spoke an elegant and brightly articulated Italian, interspersed with some English and Spanish. He is a masterful storyteller, and has no quarrels about poking fun at himself. Point to his conductor hair or caricaturize his own conducting. But when the music begins, it is all business. His connection to the Mozart score was deeply rooted in that sort of dramatic operatic flair.
As he demonstrated dynamics, it was only fitting that he would point to Verdi and his trailblazing expressionism in music. “You know, he would write in triple or quadruple piano, extending dynamics to their fullest extent.” And his Mozart had that kind of approach: dramatic contrasts, forward-moving lines, and a sense of story.
“We are in E-flat know, what is Mozart doing here?” referring to the irony of having legato woodwinds leading us into a sugary theme. “E-flat is triumphant, are there any works that you can think that follow the trend?” The Rhenish, the Eroica, we said. “Yes, the Eroica!” That same bit of sugary music leads us into a raucous development. And now the maestro cannot contain the excitement, conducting with an obvious fiery approach. You could see him smile throughout. “Mozart is also showing us the future,” he said. As he led the recapitulation, the sound was much brighter. He didn’t seem to have been doing anything different. “It’s the psychology of it,” he would remark. Thinking and then doing, or inquiring and then requiring the kind of sound you’ve envisioned is the practical solution. As we finished our class, he thanked everyone and came out with many new friends.
That morning, Maestro Muti gave us a powerful lesson in conducting. But his most remarkable contribution went above and beyond the music. Very few times, had I seen such a multitude of student and professional conductors come together as fellows in music. I saw some very highly regarded national conductors with scores in hand eager to learn and students with a hunger to absorb as much as possible from the Maestro, “hope some of that magic will rub off,” some said. The sense of camaraderie that emerged afterwards was palpable. I made new friends and reconnected with colleagues I had not seen in a few years. This was all part of the experience. Perhaps, this is exactly what music can and will do. Bring people together in the most extraordinary ways. Grazie mille Maestro.
Standing in front of Palacio de Bellas Artes this week.
El Sistema combines the power of music education with a pedagogy that is socially minded and conscious of the needs of particular students and communities. As per the Venezuelan experience and longitudinal assesments from the Inter-American Development Bank, poverty alleviation, violence reduction, economic mobility, and the development of social capital are part of its long term programmatic outcomes and impact. The orchestra and other ensemble practices, reframes an at-risk child’s present reality in beauty and guides them through the process of developing sustainable communities, both civic and musical.
Current research in early childhood education has concluded that most tasks that youngsters (and adults) face require the orchestration of several types of executive function skills. As explained on the recently published working paper Brain’s “Air Traffic Control” System: How Early Experiences Shape the Development of Executive Function, the Harvard Center for Developing Child proposes that inhibitory control, working memory, and mental flexibility be deemed as essential Executive Functioning skills; “crucial building blocks for the early development of both cognitive and social capacities.” The research notes that children with poor executive functioning skills are at greater risk for confrontational and aggressive behavior and lower academic achievement. It also points to the fact that children’s executive function skills provide the link between early school achievement and their social, emotional, and moral development.
Although attempting to tie the development of executive functioning skills to documented outcomes of music education is a promising idea, it must be further explored and probed through specific research design frameworks before it can be incorporated into public policy recommendations. Many scholars, practitioners, and other thinkers are already exploring this possibility. In the interim, I will provide here a few preliminary observations from my artistic lens as to how these two can come to co-exist.
In El Sistema and other educational settings, ensemble-based rehearsals require inhibitory control to build discipline and empathy, working memory to hold and manipulate musical instructions over a period of time, and mental flexibility to “adjust to changing demands, priorities, and perspectives” in a rehearsal setting. The orchestra as a model for the replication of these tenets may also allow students a safe space for self-expression, socialization, cognitive development, and the attainment of concrete goals.
Music education as an intervention for violence diminution may employ different sets of musical ensembles and specific pedagogies to achieve positive outcomes in the development of youth. For example, in addition to participating in an orchestra, practicing drumming and developing compositional and/or improvisation skills—in the context of collective interaction—can also help build new healthy relationships and opportunities for both individual and collective success, increasing aspects of executive functioning related to inhibitory control and preparing students for a life free of violence and other external factors that may deter their growth as citizens.
In her book, Healing the Inner City Child: Creative Arts and Therapies with At-Risk Youth, Vanessa Camilleri an urban school teacher, described using specific group drumming techniques for school-age youth that provided through listening to one another, a means for them to express themselves, release anger and learn from each other’s musical contributions. In describing a group drumming process that took place at an urban charter school, she argued that the technique was productive in helping the student's capacities to work together, share their feelings, and explore other problems inherent to the lives of traumatized and/or stressed youth. These and other related experiences are analogous to the processes leading to inhibitory control development, a "crucial building block" of human development.
Working memory, a skill directly correlated with advancing creative capacities can be developed through music education. Research points to the fact that music training improves the recall of verbal information and develops the region of the brain responsible for verbal memory. Findings by the Arts and Education Partnership, the arts research and learning coalition based in Washington D.C., noted that music students who were tested for verbal memory showed a superior recall for words as compared to non-music students (Ho et al., 1998; 2003). All in all, musicians were found to have superior working memory compared to non-musicians and were better able to sustain mental control during memory and recall tasks, most likely due to their long term musical training, their observations concluded.
Keeping track of varying elements in scaffold activities and having “the ability to follow logical steps” on self-directed of instructive commands successfully is a strong indicator of a finely tuned working memory. In El Sistema, a teaching artist may instruct a six-year-old child to find his instrument, take out his music, sit straight, and warm-up before a rehearsal of a specific piece of music. The student will have to remember to execute these in a determined order. That will help build the foundations of a “mental surface” on which the student can place important information that may arise during rehearsal or in his science classroom.
Mental flexibility, a skill necessary to succeed as an orchestral musician, can be further developed through a rigorous music training program. In an orchestral rehearsal, a musician must consider many complex activities at once. He must be focused on his own interdependent musical contributions, and at the same time, regard the instructions of a conductor and her indications related to tempi, dynamics, and/or instrumental technique; quickly addressing them and synthesizing them through a collective and affective orchestral sound. The participants must remember one new indication after another, applying them systematically and devising cues that will keep them on track while a rehearsal is in progress. For the sake of a finely tuned and collective music-making experience, it is of utmost importance that any relevant instructions be remembered, internalized, and performed at the highest level.
Having a superior mental or cognitive flexibility, allows children to “catch mistakes and fix them, to revise ways of doing things in light of new information, to consider something from a fresh perspective and to think outside the box.” Research supports the claim that a focused music program improves a student’s originality and flexibility, which are “key components of creativity and innovation.” Graduates from music programs report that creativity, teamwork, communication, and critical thinking are skills and competencies necessary in their work, regardless of whether they are working in music or in other fields (Craft, 2001; SNAAP, 2011).
As an intervention tool, a socially-minded aesthetic education can help develop executive function skills while cultivating values of teamwork, self-discipline and leadership. Some early research already points us in this direction. In the El Sistema-inspired, Baltimore based, Orchkids program, children participate in music for three hours during every school day. In order to better understand OrchKids social‐emotional and behavioral development, teachers filled out rating scales for every child in their classroom. The rating scales included items from the Behavior Assessment System for Children, Second Edition (BASC‐2) and the Behavior Rating Inventory of Executive Functioning (BRIEF), as well as other established tools that measure various dimensions of child behavior in relation to national samples.
Their most recent BASC‐2 surveys showed that on average, OrchKids have high levels of adaptability, social skills, and leadership relative to their peers. OrchKids seemed to excel most in the area of social skills, scoring an average percentile rank above 56% of their same‐age peers in a given semester. Additionally, the BASC‐2 data showed that, on average, OrchKids demonstrate good attention skills in the classroom, healthy levels of adaptability, excellent social skills and strong leadership.
In a study conducted by the Boston based, El Sistema-inspired Conservatory Lab Charter School (CLCS), a research team consisting of a CLCS teacher and a researcher from the Harvard’s Graduate School of Education studied self-regulation, motivation, collegiality, and responsibility as the skills and behavioral markers for cognitive, emotional and social development beyond academic achievement. From data collected through observations, surveys, and interviews, the researchers noted that “the El Sistema program scaffolds students in their development, improving behavior at home and in the classroom. Student interviews provide[d] evidence of self-regulation and responsible behaviors, as well as developmentally advanced understanding [sic] of working together, and a passionate engagement in the El Sistema program.”
The Orchestra: a practical intervention
As a multi-dimensional intervention for at-risk youth, orchestral practice, because it develops both cognitive and emotional capacities has the potential to mitigate attitudinal aggressiveness and improve levels of mental acuity together. These two, enhances a student's early capacity for success, beyond a musical realm, and into an understanding of citizenship of profound transcendence, as Dr. Abreu, the founder of El Sistema, has argued.
On a public policy and advocacy level, documenting that music education, and specifically, that El Sistema inspired programs can act as catalysts for the development of executive function skills, will allow advocates the tools to continue to propose the arts as a valuable component of educational curricula.
The Harvard research mentioned here suggests that early education policies that emphasize literacy instruction do not always meet the demands of student development in the 21st century. Focusing our attentions on the development of executive functioning in students through an aesthetic education framed through an arts minded curriculum can be beneficial for the evolution of education in our times.
Arts Education Partnership, Music Matters: How Music Education
Helps Students Learn, Achieve, and Succeed, Washington, D.C., (2011)
Campe, K. and B. Kaufman., “How does a Latin American Music Initiative impact an American Charter School Community? Observations from El Sistema Boston.” Harvard Graduate School of Education and El Sistema Curriculum Development, Boston (2011).
Camilleri, Vanessa (ed.) Healing the Inner City Child: Creative Arts and therapies with at risk Youth. London & Philadelphia: Jessica Kingsley Publishers, (2007).
Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University (2011). Building the Brain’s “Air Traffic Control” System: How Early Experiences Shape the Development of Executive Function: Working Paper No. 11. Retrieved from www.developingchild.harvard.edu
Robinson, Sinclair, et al. OrchKids Evaluation Report Executive Summary and Primary Data Collection (2010)
Santiago Calatrava's 2005 design for a previously proposed Atlanta Symphony Center.
It has been recently reported in national publications and elsewhere that a few of the country’s most venerable orchestras may not be able to begin their seasons as planned this year. Such is the case of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, whose efforts to renegotiate a four-year contract with their musicians has currently reached a stalemate, putting the organization in jeopardy and in a state of functional uncertainty.
It is a very uncomfortable situation for the musicians, their patrons, and the orchestra field-at-large. Bloggers and critics have been watching. The Atlanta example of a lack of adaptive management is symptomatic of the present reality of many American orchestras.
In an economy where the arts are funded by almost solely on private support, dwindling donations affect artistic organizations tremendously. Has the professional orchestra, as we know it, seized to be relevant to those stalwart donors and partners and to the community-at-large?
The ASO has an accumulated and projected debt of $20 million dollars. During the last season, the orchestra brought in $40 million in revenue, it spent $45 million.
When and why did management neglect to take a look at the growing deficit? I also wonder, to what extent are music directors responsible for the financial health of their orchestras? Should musicians also be analytical and critical of their organization’s own managerial practices?
The next generation of musicians is learning how to run their own ensembles; opera companies, festivals, and consulting businesses, to name a few examples. Not too long ago, I spent a good four week of my life away from my score study and in a finance classroom, analyzing IRS 990 forms, running analyses of financial position, figuring out organizational solvency and liquidity rations, etc.
Coming into a finance classroom was not easy, and I don’t it is generally considered “part of my field.” But given the nature of the current financial fragility and changing needs of our cultural institutions, it is imperative that musicians be more involved in "managing" aspects of the music. In the future, all orchestras will be run by musicians, a new kind of artist/cultural entrepreneur hybrid will be making decisions in the board room with a new facility and artistry.
But for now, it is time for the ASO to put the pieces back together. And I hope that doesn’t mean bringing in a major donor to save the game. That easy route would bring them back to the same place of regression. The ASO management has to show that it can streamline their budget, be transparent, and fair. Musicians, now more than ever, must continue to be active in their own communities as cultural agents (teachers, mentors, advocates). This, in hope of allowing music to become present not only in community but through community.
Both musicians and managers can learn to co-exist, by listening to and learning from each other; and by running their organizations as self-critical and responsible non-profits. In any cultural organization, one must be always be poised to ask the critical questions, what is the current mission of our work and is it still relevant?
Can we continue to make a case for orchestras?
When I think of orchestras, I ponder upon the idea that that as musical institutions they are meant to be microcosms of what society might aspire to be. They should continue to exist because they provide us with tangible examples of harmonious interdependence. I cannot think of any other social group whose sole purpose is to agree on something.
On stage, and after a long rehearsal process, musicians come to assemble their own disparate ideas into one that is cohesive and reflective of the needs and intentions of all. And while the music plays, they adapt to changing tempi, dynamics, and to each other's sound. Agreeing, listening, adapting, and then agreeing again; is part of what makes an interpretation, a sublime experience to behold.
Such examples of singular unity and beauty are extremely rare and should be valued. They should also be paid attention to more often, for in their uncommonness lie opportunities to learn how, beyond music, people can learn to work with and for each other in pursuit of excellence. As a society, we can all benefit from these artistic perspectives.
As for our friends and colleagues in Atlanta, I am hopeful that they will know how to orchestrate a solution. It is important that agreements be reached, for the sake of upholding the value of such noble opportunities.
>>> Update >>>
On September 26, The Atlanta Symphony Orchestra Players Association (ASOPA), said in a press release:
"The Atlanta Symphony Orchestra Players Association (ASOPA) announced that the musicians voted to accept a new Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) for the term of September 23, 2012 – September 6, 2014.
"In an unprecedented and extremely painful move designed to keep the music going, ASOPA agreed to every dollar in concessions that the Woodruff Arts Center (WAC) and ASO management have demanded since the lockout began on August 25. In the interest of continuing to bring music to the community and opening the season on time, ASOPA has accepted $5.2 million in concessions over a brief two-year agreement."
"The musicians of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra have agreed to these deep concessions for one reason alone, and that is to do what they do best: continue to play great music for their public at an extraordinarily high level. They hope you will join them in support and recognition of this sacrifice by attending upcoming concerts, donating generously, and recognizing that the people on stage are the assets that must be preserved."
Texas will now be home to the fastest highways in the land. Limits to be set at 85 miles per hour on a 41-mile stretch of toll road between Austin and San Antonio according to the USA Today.
Some musicians love speed too, it's fun to indulge and break the rules, every once in a while. Just listen to this Shostakovich Allegro (the Italian for a quick, lively tempo) coming to you from Caracas be played at daring speed.
Does this performance by these talented high schoolers, merit a speeding ticket or just a warning, what do you think?
My latest acquisition, a Toy Piano. Shiny red, Schoenhut made. John Cage composed a work for this instrument. I am playing it here at the Dakota Sky International Piano Festival and as part of the composer's centennial celebrations.
While digging through some old cardboard boxes, I found a CD with a recording of mine. A musical composition made a few years ago. It was put together at the Upchurch Studio for Electro-Acoustic Music at TCU as part of a seminar on new music. I am not going to try to describe the piece. Frankly, I don’t even remember what it was about. What I do remember is being there in the studio, putting the final touches and mixing a host of bizarre sounds at 3 a.m. with a synthesizer, a massive computer set up, and a looming deadline in front of me.
Looking back, the exercise was almost like a conducting experience. Yes, orchestrating sounds, framing them as a part of something larger, more complete. Gesturing in a new sound, panning another, keeping track of the overall structure. There was a sense of feeling too, finding the right pace, the right groove. It was all an act of creation. And all of that, being there present in the experience of it all (beyond the product itself) is what brings me back to making music, everyday, all the time. Fast forward a few years, I am listening to it again, with fresh ears, as if it was the first time. And I want to share with you. Have a listen, and if you like it, pass it on. Six minutes long, no more, no less.