Over the past few weeks, the Abreu Fellows have been on the road, visiting numerous music programs. This has afforded us the opportunity to see the day-to-day practices of artistic directors and music educators... and to interact with kids! In addition, we each have selected a research topic on which to concentrate for the rest of the year. I will be investigating the ways in which El Sistema music instruction addresses key child developmental issues. I wonder: How can we maximize the positive effects of music on children in the El Sistema USA classroom, considering different socio-economic groups, ages and abilities?
For four days, we immersed ourselves in this after school music program, inspired by El Sistema and run by Dan Trahey, in partnership with the Baltimore Symphony and Lockerman Bundy Elementary School. To get a feel for our visit down there, you should check out these great videos by: Lorrie, Dantes, Stan and Jonathan.
During our time in Baltimore, I was particularly impressed by Eric Rasmussen, OrchKids' Early Childhood specialist. Eric teaches musicianship classes to pre-kindergarten and kindergarten students, introducing complex rhythmic patterns and melodic concepts with grace and Ella Fitzgerald recordings. He lead an interactive class without being waylaid by discipline issues, and he accomplished this feat because:
1. He uses positive reinforcement and gives the children multiple opportunities to succeed (e.g. by singing easy melodic patterns back to him).
2. He keeps the lesson moving forward and the work challenging. The kids do not have time to misbehave.
3. He gives the students choices of activities throughout the lesson, so that they may control their own learning.
4. He does not pay undue attention to the unresponsive or disruptive children, thus avoiding potentially explosive situations.
5. He speaks with the voice of calm authority. His leadership could never be questioned, but he's no autocrat.
Thus, Eric creates an environment that is safe and structured, but that allows room for the students to be actively involved in their music education. In this way, he plants the seeds for the children to grow into responsible adults.
Boston Arts Academy (Fenway)
A LaGuardia-like high school for the arts (music, theater, dance and visual arts) that is aching for a "feeder" middle school music program. To work towards this goal, BAA runs a Suzuki strings program that does outreach work in four middle schools.
I enjoyed seeing a winds and brass ensemble play "When the Saints Go Marching In." The young teacher had each of the students improvise on a verse, and when some looked daunted at the task, he engaged them in a call-and-response. This allowed all the students, regardless of ability, to experience success, which is crucial in building self-esteem at this difficult age.
Youth and Family Enrichment Services (Hyde Park)
YOFES' music program, OAMEC (Open Access to Music Education for Children), may be small, but YOFES has been doing great work for Boston's Haitian community for years. With a social worker on staff, YOFES is able to support the whole child and address key issues in the family. They even facilitate parent-child communication through interactive group sessions. Their music students, of course, enjoy these same services, and Program Director Geralde Gabeau has recently started a music leadership course for teenagers, so that they can act as mentors to the younger string students.
Boston City Singers (Dorchester)
Jane Money's choral program feels like a family. Jane creates an atmosphere of excellence, while at the same time encouraging the students to help each other. Their pilot strings program is a nurturing environment in which the teacher uses singing to strengthen instrumental concepts.
Here's Dantes explaining his crazy instrument...
...and Katie helping a young violinist
Conservatory Lab Charter School (Brighton)
We taught a song! And then I tried out iMovie!
Boston Children's Chorus (Shawmut)
Artistic Director Anthony Trecek-King spent three days with us, talking about choral conducting and welcoming us into the BCC family. He avoids discipline problems by setting the bar high... and it is high! When we visited the evening rehearsals, the students' abilities blew me away. The young chorus sang with beautiful tone and energy, and the high school ensemble sight read advanced music with ease. These high schoolers spoke about BCC's familial environment and how the chorus brings together students from Boston's disparate neighborhoods, thus encouraging the mixing of different socio-economic groups.
Thanks for reading!