Children from The Conservatory Lab Charter School in Boston

Children from The Conservatory Lab Charter School in Boston

Sunday, December 12, 2010

News from the End of Semester One!!

of this incredible journey is almost OVER!

I am joyfully and utterly overwhelmed by this year and can't WAIT for the time in Venezuela to put this all together...mainly my BRAIN!

What's been going on???

In house, we have had the most informative seminars: Beth Babcock on non-profit start-ups and inner city issues and Greg Kandel on strategic planning. They both came to us again with the best energy in the world: Get going, think ahead, plan well, so that you can change your plan, know that sh....t will happen!
Slowly but surely, the idea of going out and starting a bold project seems not only thoroughly do-able but natural. There will be no perfect path, no clear directions to follow. But one beginning leads to another. The genuine excitement people feel when hearing how quickly El Sistemesque programs affect even society's most challenging kids will surely be a motivating energy source.

I have upped my commitment to the
Conservatory Lab Charter School.
The 200 children at this music based charter school in Boston are new to El Sistema. I have posted about this program beofre, not to bore you. It was started 11 weeks ago by two of last years Abreu Fellows who are doing an amazing job.
Last week, I went there 3 times!
It was hardly planned that way, I just have trouble staying away! Most motivating to me are the changes in the kids themselves. Please take a moment to watch this video. You'll see David Malek, one of last years Abreu Fellows, with his 3rd and 4th grade orchestra of beginners after only 12 weeks of daily work at the Conservatory Lab Charter School in Boston:

Consider this: these children are complete beginners to everything involved in this rehearsal.
They have learned to play together, to watch a conductor or listen to his beat, to sit still, to read music and sing a part other than their own (they are learning the Beethoven 9 melody off the score, every child singing and playing every part.) And also new, by the way, is playing their instruments. I say this LAST on purpose!

This might give a glimpse into what is unique about this kind of teaching: it is less about the individual child learning to play an instrument, and much more about developing ensemble skills as they relate to being successful citizens in the world: for a good rehearsal to happen, you need: patience, respect, listening skills, encouragement, a belief in the process even if it is sometimes slow and you have to think as team: the progress is defined by the least advanced link. If your group should excel, each child must help the least advanced progress.
For my ways of thinking, which are rooted in individualism, this was very foreign and I had my serious doubts those first weeks as I watched horrible bow-holds and saggy violins. I still see some straight pinkies, although much less of them, and far less saggy violins. Why? The kids are becoming the


But we don't see them trying to skip, go home early.....not at all! There is pride, there is peer mentoring, there is the sheer joy of being with so many friends and adults that take this quest so seriously. They must feel how much we care. And, by week 12, EVERY child can tell that there has been enormous progress and this excites them: we identify with something we do well, we then love doing it, praise follows, and we are hooked. This is human nature.

I was A SCEPTIC about how this might work here in the US.
I thought maybe it's too serious, too Classical, not cool enough. Honestly, I don't even think the kids are aware that this is Classical music as opposed to other music. This is what they do. They love David Malek (who is stunning with them) and their teachers who come every day to be with them, there is something else going on that is much deeper than the type of music on the page. All the kids are playing Beethoven 9, the theme, very naturally, no questions asked. I asked a kid if he had an idea of who Beethoven was, and he said, simply, "no", and I thought, that's just fine! Does he need to know about Vienna and that B. is long dead and was deaf and all that, or is it more powerful that this music has become a part of his day?? For 2 hours every day this child is with Beethoven, singing, learning the harmonies, listening, feeling the silence that David makes them pay attention to before and after playing. That's a lot more Beethoven knowledge than a few facts, right? Do Twinkle kids know who Mozart was or do they just love Twinkle as part of their lives first and then meet Mozart the (dead) man? What's first, love for music or love for decomposing composers? Surely the former!!

Could this program be about Chess or Hula-hoops??

Maybe. Let's say: Chess or hula-ing would be a whole lot better than nothing, and if you wish to give to children who are, for whatever reasons, not motivated to learn, by all means, gather those children and start a program that is fueled by your desire to create a passion for learning. If they are inspired by your passionate energy, they will love what you do and they will want to please you by doing it well. This is maybe the #1 most important truth about teaching: when we are not motivating our students to WANT to do what we are teaching, they are not learning but rather just complying. (Eric Booth). Boy, have I often messed that one up!

Why, then, Classical music?

That is where self-expression and being in a group rhythm comes in. Chess is not expressive, and it's war. Hulahooping is a sport, by nature competitive. Music is expressive and the way it is taught here, and this I LOVE, non-competitive.

Here's another video of a class in New York City's Harmony Project. The trumpet teacher is Julie Des Bordes, a french woman with extraordinary teaching skills. Her students are brand new to trumpet. Notice how she has them hearing the note in their head first, how fast her pace is and how positive the feedback. Not one criticism in the whole clip! This class was fabulous!

Tomorrow we go to NYC to watch the Harmony Program in it's 3 locations: Harlem, Bronx and Brooklyn. Anne Fitzgibbon will show us her masterpiece: her NYU affiliated program that is 3 years old and already has 3 sites!
We will visit the TED offices, we will see the Harlem Childrens Zone. I am hoping to have a Jeffery Canada sighting.....he's so cool. I am super excited to see all this, and I am deeply committed to going to sleep early tonight! It will be a busy busy time in the Big Apple.

What are your thoughts about this style of orchestra based learning? I'd love to hear from you!!