Finding your voice (a Sistema experience)

Finding your voice 

By Jose Luis Hernandez, Director of Sistema Tulsa 

Whenever a new student joins Sistema Tulsa we begin the process of pairing them with an instrument that they will learn and play throughout the year. It is a journey that begins with discerning affinities towards a particular instrumental sound. The students are always moved at how the pitches can have such a wide range and personality. "Clarinets have such a mellow sound and tubas can really roar," they say. Others are intrigued when Mrs. Morgan, our strings teacher, demonstrates on the violin and wonder how it is possible she can turn a piece of steel wire into a silky-smooth sound. 

Students will also gravitate towards what the instrument looks like. Some like the polished brass instruments and how you can see your reflection on them. Students are also inspired to listen to their own singing voice and realize that there is a promising sound emanating from an instrument that already belongs to them! 

We let everyone listen and try every instrument and somehow, there in between, the students find their instrument and voice (or maybe the instrument finds them!). As a general rule, beginning students who are in our Elementary-age program don’t take instruments home to practice (unless you are a singer!). First, we want to make sure that they have acquired a certain level of ownership and skill on the instrument. Since the instruments are very fragile they are also taught how to take care of them. 

One of my favorite moments in the life of the program comes around the end of the year whenever we are preparing for a big concert. I know that a few students will come to see me and ask if they can take their instrument home to practice. 

Last year, Taylor and Fiona were both quick to petition that they take their instrument home. I often ask our students why. Knowing the why allows me to get to know the students better. What I find out is that they love music and that they want to get better at their instrument. They also tell me that a concert is an important event and they want to sound and be their best for themselves, their families and their peers also. This mindset tells me a lot about our program culture. We are a community that is constantly aspiring to be a better version of itself and we are on this journey together. From our students to our teachers, families, and volunteers, we all feel a sense of needing to give our best each day. 

From a vantage point, I am able to experience how the program has evolved over time. It was no surprise for me to learn through the results of our most recent survey that the majority of our students find truth in the fact that “no matter who you are you can always become better at music.” And they are also unfazed at challenges—they say that difficult music doesn’t make them give up, “I just keep going until I get it right.” What begins as a fun game of trying out instruments progresses to life-changing and affirming possibilities for our students. 

We hope and pray that music and the care of a Christian community help them find more success and joy in their lives. 

*Sistema Tulsa welcomes new students and families for an onboarding workshop on August 16-17.

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