Children from The Conservatory Lab Charter School in Boston

Children from The Conservatory Lab Charter School in Boston

Thursday, October 14, 2010

A new Fellow (barely) getting her bearings in Boston

Dear Friends!

Where to even's the end of week 2 in Boston. I can tell that someday I will love looking back to this time: "Remember being lost in Boston all the time those first weeks? At midnight not finding my host-family's house? Calling Frank and asking him to navigate me home from his desk in Cleveland.....?" Eijeijei. For now, I am completely overwhelmed and overloaded and really looking forward to looking back, but in a very happy way!

The program is FANTASTIC. Every day from 9:30 to 4 pm, all 10 fellows are seated at our huge table in our home room at NEC, listening to seminars from leaders that bring their entire life force and experiences to us. I wish I could just have a big slot in my head to stuff in all this valuable information.

We had full and energetic days with Eric Booth and Anne Fitzgibbon (Harmony Project, NYC), and Greg Kandel, who is an expert at Non-Profit Start-ups. All 3 are on the El Sistema USA advisory board. Eric focused on the high energy we see in the Venezuelan El Sistema programs and encouraged us to look deeply at what we see once we are there. Anne humbly shared how she created her huge and thriving project in greater NYC. She now manages 3 sites! Greg quickly showed us how to make a strategic plan. Easy!
Today, a very impressive Beth Babcock, founder of a center in Boston called "Liveworkthrive" (which succeeds in helping women raise themselves out of poverty), spoke to us with incredible passion, giving us many incredible resources to use when researching a possible site. Data is abundant, but you have to know where to look! She knows we will need much help and, along with everyone else, generously told us how to reach her anytime!

I am speechless also at the amount of time NEC President Tony Woodcock has spent with us. He has given us two fantastic seminars on public speaking, complete with watching ourselves on video, (yikes), and treated us to one evening of intense wine-drinking and fabulous eating with his warm and interesting family at his wonderful home. I have been humbled by how much I need to learn when speaking publicly about topics I know nothing about(!!). Let's just say, my career in speaking publicly about Pakistani literature or tourist attractions I have not seen, would not be lucrative.

I sadly had to miss dinner at Ben Zanders house, but will attend his class tomorrow.

Back to a more serious note: the group of fellows is outstanding. They are all experienced in areas in which I am not, which is so interesting, and we all laugh a lot, at least so far.
There is:
Graciela, who lived and taught violin in Kenya
Steve who worked at the El Sistema inspired YOLA program and has a collapsible string bass!
Andrea who grew up in Panama and has energy for 10
Marie from Haiti who has lived and taught successfully in an El Sistema nucleo in Venezuela
David who can read anything on piano, is from Spain and has worked with kids in NYC.
Patrick is only 22 but you can't tell, plays percussion and has worked a lot in Chicago music programs for underserved kids
Adrienne, is so poetic, loves coffee and worked at the Storefront Quartet Project in Rhode Island
Laura loves Brahms and is from Boston, thinks clearly and quickly and gives great directions!
Liz the bassoonist who is so funny that she seriously needs her own TV show, worked in Manhattan public schools and plays a fierce bassoon!
She has taught me that you cannot rush soaking a reed. This may well become my metaphor for this year......

Eric, our wonderful program director, is very calm and thinks of us as a very interesting and somewhat chatty bunch. I think he may be right!
Next door are Stephanie Scherpf and Mark Churchill, generous and open, both of them. One big difference to orchestra life is the lack of feeling a distinct "us" vs. "them". This is a great joy for me.

We realize with each day more, that great hopes and expectations rest on our collective shoulders. (10 or 20? Whatever! We will need more!)

By late November, the outline to a Strategic Plan for a hypothetical (and hopefully someday real) program is due. We are stretching our brains to imagine ourselves as Leaders in a movement that is rolling at a furious pace. When I think of a room full of kids exploring their instruments, I feel unbelievably excited. Public and charter school education is being re-evaluated nation-wide, new approaches beyond only testing are being considered....I feel that the timing for this could not be better.
I see now, that I will not leave here with all the answers, but with fabulous resources and with contacts to many outstanding experts that feel very passionately about helping us design successful programs.

A highlight for me was the brief visit by Tavis Smiley from NPR. A quote from Tavis is:
"If you want to lead, you have to love, if you want to save, you have to serve."

He truly cares deeply about children, and I really liked his shoes!

There are many stories in the media about last years' Fellows, most of which have now started El Sistema inspired programs in their US cities. I will attach a front page article from the Philadelphia Enquirer about 09-10 Fellow Stanford Thompson's new program. It interests me especially, because it is in partnership with the Philadelphia Orchestra.

I believe with all my heart that teaching kids to play instruments will make a HUGE difference for them AND for us in the Classical music profession. If they learn to play in a cheerful group of friends, they will enjoy it, and chances are much increased that they will be hooked to the power of the music. From this, there is so much gain.

A statistic for you: 75% of all medical students in VZ are graduates of El Sistema!!

It is absolutely time to go to bed, class begins in 7.5 hours---I truly wish I did not have to waste time sleeping this year!

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