A few thoughts on Education - April, 6, 2015 

A few days ago, I visited with students and parents at a local Tulsa Elementary school to speak about music education and our Sistema Tulsa project. I enjoy these opportunities because I can connect and learn from them. I always feel that effective education should be a "from the ground up" or grassroots process if you will—where parents, teachers, and students must all "play" in concert to make it work.

As I shared a dinner in the school cafeteria, I met a mother and daughter who told me that they really enjoyed their school. As the conversation unfolded, I learned that the daughter, a third grader, had a few pieces of constructive criticism to share. She said, I make the Principal’s Honor Roll every time, yet I don’t feel like receive the recognition I deserve.” She believes that the school pays too much attention to behavior management and to her it seemed that doing well in that area carried more weight as far as rewards were concerned. I wonder if the school, or any school for that matter, has a process in place to hear the feelings, attitudes, or aspirations of their students. I know this would not be an easy task given the extraordinary demands teacher face on daily basis, but I learned that even taking a few minutes to hear a concern over a quick dinner can make a big difference to make a student feel included.

This exercise of inclusion can be productive on many levels. First of all, because it recognizes someone’s viewpoint and this can be important in the educational process. When Howard Gardner was in here in Tulsa to lecture on his ideas as part of the Brock International Prize in Education, he explained the concept of “individuation.” He shared that teachers must be conscious of each student’s intellectual profile (I would also add an emotional profile as rendered by the contextual circumstances of their own life). Interestingly enough, individuation is not a new practice. It happens often in the context of personal instruction or tutoring which for the most part only the more economically affluent students can partake in. In urban school districts where poverty might be an issue, all who participate in education cannot shy away from the potential of being as present as we can be in the life of each student. This of course is a parent’s responsibility first but needs to also be balanced among different supporting pillars.

I remember my first piano teacher used to say that it took the participation of the student, the teacher, and the family to reach success. I know that educational leaders often try their best to plan activities where the three can meet and share. The parent teacher conference or the “Rise and Shine” general assembly come to mind. Lately, I witnessed another type of bonding experience—the Music Festival. Around thirteen Elementary schools in Tulsa met to make music together through "Orff" ensembles and choral groups. About 200 students shared the stage with several teachers taking turns at leading the music. The general atmosphere at these events is always one of pride and celebration. It always impresses me to see so many cameras and flashes shining around, as if this were a Garth Brooks concert. But the whole point of the experience goes much farther than the waves that a musical tune can produce or the images that can be captured on a cell phone. This is about the experience of being in the presence of a much more hopeful future. As students sang (and they sang with gusto) you could sense that they felt that they were part of something important. How many times have students left a testing room feeling elated or proud about themselves?

Back to Gardner and his talk, in addition to individuation there was also “pluralization” in learning. This idea has everything to do with finding ways to teach a specific idea from multiple perspectives. There is research to prove that the arts can teach us much more than playing a note in tune or drawing a line with finesse. In fact, there are several experiments around the country having to do with what experts call “expeditionary learning” where mathematics or language can be taught from a musical perspective. I have not fully participated in this but I presume that this would work given I can still remember all 50 states and all the Books of the Bible (since they were taught to me in the form of a song).

Beyond the academic realm, I do think that there are things that only the arts can teach us. The great American jazzman Wynton Marsalis speaks eloquently on this subject. He uses music and swing as a metaphor for inclusion. “Music necessitates listening to and working with others in fulfillment of the requirements of ensemble performance,” he says, “The art of swing is the art of balance, of constant assertion and compromise.” I like the word compromise because it implies trust. And perhaps this is just what we need more of today. We need to find ways to listen better to each other, to recognize that viewpoints which might be foreign to us still matter, and to celebrate our diversity in the broadest sense of the word. I remember the student at the local Elementary school and ponder that this is perhaps why it is so important that we can listen to the most vulnerable of voices because they can teach us how we should lead and how the music should sound.

-Jose Luis

El Sistema 40  

Por su  transcendencia social y educativa, El Sistema es uno de los más importantes proyectos culturales de nuestros tiempos. En su 40 aniversario, me uno a la celebración de sus logros e ideales sublimados por el trabajo constante y paciente de su fundador José Antonio Abreu. Me siento muy orgulloso de poder ser parte de ese gran sueño de proyección hacia el futuro. ¡Felicidades! 

Because of its social and educational significance, El Sistema is one of the most important cultural projects of our time. On its 40th anniversary, I join the celebration of its achievements and ideals guided by the constant and patient work of its founder José Antonio Abreu. I feel very proud to be part of this great dream of growing better futures. Congratulations!

Music Among Friends / January 25  

I am pleased to share an upcoming musical performance in Tulsa, OK. 

Next Sunday, January 25, some of Tulsa’a most gifted instrumentalists will join members of Boston Avenue’s music program to perform a beautiful concert of chamber music at 5:00 p.m. The concert is free and open to the public.“This concert will feature  pieces that are quite intimate and expressive,” says Joel Panciera. In addition to two new vocal works by American composers, the concert will include solo concertos by J. S. Bach and Wolfgang Mozart. Jose Luis Hernandez-Estrada will be a featured soloist on the Mozart piano concerto.  The chamber group will also perform movements of Handel’s famous Water Music.  

The concert is free and open to the public.
Boston Avenue United Methodist Church
1301 S Boston Ave, Tulsa 74119 


New England Conservatory "Innovation Grant" 

I am happy to share that I am the recipient of the New England Conservatory's Sistema Fellows Resource Center Innovation Grant. This grant will allow me to pursue advance studies through the Harvard Graduate School of Education professional program "Leading Change in Education Systems." The committee stated their support in helping me "pursue learning of personal interest that will also contribute to the growth and thinking of the rest of the field." 

The Messiah at Boston Avenue  

I recently had the opportunity to conduct in a performance of Handel's masterpiece "Messiah" during the Advent Season at the Boston Avenue Church in Tulsa. It was a concert full of joy, warmth, and beauty. And a wonderful testament to the idea that music can bring people together and make communities stronger. I am grateful to music director Dr. Joel Panciera, Susan Panciera (organist), the Chancel Choir, and the Tulsa Symphony Orchestra musicians for all of their support and generosity of spirit. 

Wishing everyone a Merry Christmas! 

Music in the Advent and Christmas Season  

I am pleased to share two upcoming musical performances: 

The annual Advent Festival of Lessons and Carols will be held on Sunday, December 7th at 4 and 6 p.m.

This service is patterned after a similar one held at King’s College Chapel in Cambridge, England. Scriptures will be shared by readers of all ages, and those readings will be interspersed with hymns and carols accompanied by a chamber orchestra. Singers and instrumentalists will be led by Dr. Joel Panciera and Jose Luis Hernandez-Estrada. The rich acoustics produced by the long shape and marble surfaces of Great Hall create a sound much like that in the great cathedrals of England, where this service began. Those attending should arrive early as the hall fills quickly.

The Nineteenth Annual Natalie O. Warren Presentation of Handel’s Messiah will be held on Sunday, December 21st at 5 p.m.

Boston Avenue Church's Chancel Choir will join forces with members of the Tulsa Symphony Orchestra to perform George F. Handel's timeless masterpiece, Messiah. This concert performance of Messiah will include movements from all three parts of the oratorio. Singers and instrumentalists will be led by Dr. Joel Panciera and Jose Luis Hernandez-Estrada.

Both services and concert are free and open to the public.
Boston Avenue United Methodist Church
1301 S Boston Ave, Tulsa 74119 

Awaken the Dawn (Broadcast) 

Awaken the Dawn is the title of my latest piano solo composition. It was dedicated to the congregation of Boston Avenue United Methodist Church in Tulsa. This is the live broadcast that aired November 9th on KTUL-TV Channel 8.

Happy Thanksgiving! 

Professional updates 11/2014  

Two exciting professional updates: 

I am delighted to share news of my recent appointment as program director of Sistema Tulsa, a forthcoming El Sistema-inspired program for the city of Tulsa, Oklahoma. Sistema Tulsa is a visionary community-wide project of social change through music. Inspired by the educational philosophies of El Sistema in Venezuela, the program will grow and support children and youth musical ensembles that exemplify and nurture a culture of aspiration. In concert with Tulsa Public Schools and numerous community partners, the project will be hosted and led by the Boston Avenue United Methodist Church

have been accepted into the 2015 cohort of Leading Change in Education Systems, a professional program of the Harvard Graduate School of Education. The program examines the challenges of leading the development and implementation of effective policy and practice in order to provide quality education.

Album Release - Sounds Blooming  

My new piano solo album “Sounds Blooming” is now available via iTunes digital release. The recording was made in Boston’s WGBH studios and features an array of introspective and modernist works by John Cage, Claude Debussy, Gustav Mahler, and others.

My nuevo álbum de piano solista “Sounds Blooming” ya está disponible vía formato digital de iTunes. La grabación fue producida en los estudios de la WGBH en Boston y contiene una colección de obras modernistas e introspectivas de John Cage, Claude Debussy, Gustav Mahler, entre otros. 


El reto de aprender (y enseñar) a dirigir  


Los jóvenes aprenden de las orquestas en formación… 

Por José Luis Hernández-Estrada

Entre las responsabilidades que se me asignaron dentro de mi reciente visita al Sistema Nacional de Coros y Orquestas juveniles de Venezuela destacó la impartición de un taller para diez jóvenes directores orquestales con sede en el núcleo rural de Mamporal. El grupo estuvo compuesto por algunos integrantes ya con preparación y experiencia en la dirección orquestal. Y otras nuevas batutas con poca experiencia pero con amplia pericia en su instrumento musical. Además de trabajar dentro un plano teórico y artístico tuvimos también la oportunidad de reflexionar sobre ideas en torno a la concertación comunitaria y el liderazgo social. Vi en ellos a un grupo sólido con una hermosa vocación musical y de servicio.  

En Venezuela existe ya una gran escuela en torno a la materia. Basta revisar los éxitos internacionales de algunos de sus integrantes de mayor proyección: Dudamel, Matheuz, Paredes, entre otros. El trabajo de los pedagogos venezolanos iniciado por José Antonio Abreu y seguido con igual devoción por Teresa Hernández, Felipe Izcaray, Gregory Carreño, entre otros, ha cobrado particular trascendencia a raíz de los objetivos propuestos y metas alcanzadas. Se esta formando—por necesidad y convicción—una cantera importante de talentos que aspiren a cumplir con las expectativas de expansión del Sistema y masificación de su creciente excelencia artística. 
Habiendo casi una infinidad de orquestas con las cuales los estudiantes pueden practicar, los postulantes al podio comienzan desde muy temprana edad. Cosa que no sucede en ninguna otra parte del mundo. (Tan solo en los conservatorios y universidades norte americanas, los estudios formales de dirección orquestal no aparecen hasta el grado de maestría). En la gran mayoría de los casos estos nuevos talentos venezolanos surgen de las filas de las orquestas manifestando su liderazgo de manera natural—solicitando más responsabilidades, asimilando su arte con mayor profundidad, y comenzando a imaginar su relación para con sus compañeros dentro de una dinámica de acción social. Asimilar esta visión del director no solo como músico, si no como agente social, adquiere importancia dentro de la didáctica musical. 
Dice el maestro Abreu que para gestar un director debe existir una ambición de liderazgo acentuada por la humildad. Debe oír todo y oírlo bien. También debe de ser un autodidacta voraz. Debe de saber controlar el tempo. Y revelar sus errores como una experiencia viva que otorgue nuevas soluciones. El maestro mexicano Eduardo Mata concebía la dirección orquestal como un acto de creación—“La música no existe hasta que suena…es decir, hasta que el interprete la realiza en el tiempo.” Daniel Barenboim apunta hacia un universo pragmático al decir que la disciplina consiste primordialmente en “educar el oído.” Leonard Bernstein en uno de sus aforismos dionisíacos se refiere a que uno no debe hacer música, debe ser la música.
De vuelta a nuestro taller, asimilo el reto con alto compromiso, ¿Como se enseña a dirigir? Aún cuando existen textos académicos, análisis, y observaciones de expertos que nos muestran técnicas pedagógicas es difícil diseñar un plan académico que pueda ser aplicado a todos los alumnos por igual. La realidad es que cada futuro director es único y sus anheles son distintos. Cada uno se asoma al podio con su propia fuerza y pulso interior. Este se va perfeccionando con el tiempo, la experiencia, y el estudio profundo de las partituras (dentro de su contexto tanto histórico como estilístico). Para sentir la música hay que sentirse parte de la plasticidad del sonido. A medida que las armonías transcurren en el espacio-tiempo, el director debe de ser sensible a sus señales y permutas, moldeándolas con sus manos y su gesto. Y para lograr esa hazaña debe saber escuchar, que ineludiblemente es lo mas difícil de lograr. Todo gira en torno a la audición aguda y perspicaz. ¿Todo eso se puede enseñar?
Creo que en gran medida esto depende del alumno y su sensibilidad. Eso si, debe de haber logrado un alto nivel en su instrumento principal que le permita generar una estética sonora propia, también una actitud de servicio hacia la música, y un compromiso con la idea de que cómo director se tiene que ganar su oficio a través de la paciencia y la constancia. Más importante aún, generar e interiorizar (con el tiempo) ideas claras de lo que se quiere comunicar. Al finalizar el taller, una de mis alumnas me decía cuan difícil era todo eso. Nunca pensó que algo que pareciera ser tan fácil a la vista fuera tan complejo en la práctica. Habiendo escuchado su dilema, creo que logramos cumplir con el objetivo pedagógico que nos propusimos todos—el de reconocernos como un producto inacabado. “Es un proceso,” le dije. “Cada quien va encontrando el rumbo para alimentar la conciencia del líder que llevamos dentro.”