Thursday, December 22, 2011

Internship with the Fellows: Baltimore, and the Simon Bolivar Big Band Jazz

For one month, the Fellows in the El Sistema program at NEC immerse themselves in El Sistema programs and projects that they're interested in. I went to Baltimore for a week to observe and teach at OrchKids, traveled to Washington DC for a day to speak with leaders from NAFME, Arts Education Partnership, and Orchestra of the Americas, and then went home to New York to help out with the first tour of the Simon Bolivar Big Band Jazz.

After that, I worked for the rest of the time on a project to explore how non-profits with similar missions to El Sistema have been funded in the US, and which priorities are important to some major grantmakers who support arts and arts for social change programs.

Here is a short video I made about my time in Baltimore and with the Bolivars:

Sunday, November 13, 2011

OrchKids at the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and Beatboxer Shodekeh

In the last few weeks, I've had the opportunity to hang out in Baltimore with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra's OrchKids program, an El Sistema-inspired program to build community and position children for lifelong success through music.

For one week, Abreu Fellows Jose-Luis Estrada, Aisha Bowden, and I spent time speaking with Dan Trahey, the director of OrchKids, and his wonderful team of teachers and site coordinators. We observed and taught at Lockerman Bundy Elementary School, the current hub of OrchKids (there are four sites), drove through the different neighborhoods where the programs are located, and attended a performance of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. The highlight for me was spending time teaching Jazmine, the talented fourth-grade horn player (and the only horn player at OrchKids, at least for now!)

Jazmine, the OrchKids horn player

This week, I went back to Baltimore to speak at the Community Engagement Through Music Education conference with OrchKids and the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. About 12 music educators and arts administrators gathered for two days to learn about starting and running successful music programs for community development, as inspired by El Sistema and OrchKids. I spoke about positioning leaders in this movement as creative managers, exceptional teachers, fundraisers, and advocates for this work, as experienced in the Abreu Fellows program.

Unlike the week with the other Fellows, this week I had the lucky opportunity to experience an OrchKids concert. Beat-boxer extraordinaire Shodekeh came to OrchKids to work and perform with the kids in an improvisational piece, and I got to hang out with him and a couple of the OrchKids students pre-concert.

Ashanti interviews Shodekeh

The concert was truly inspiring. A few hundred parents, friends, and family came from the neighborhood to support their children. I couldn't stop watching the beaming faces of the families when they saw and heard their babies performing for them. This is what it means when we talk about "building community:" giving the families a sense of pride in their children and in what the young people in their neighborhoods can do through musical accomplishment.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Abreu Fellows Take New York By Storm

Drummers in Tompkin's Square in the East Village

I am writing in a community garden in the East Village, peering up through trees and plants at the blue sky above. Ten red and white balloons are floating up above behind one of the buildings; someone below must have just released them. It is quiet and unseasonably warm for an October day, and the city feels magical and at peace. My day included a yoga class at Finding Sukha with Abreu Fellows Julie Davis and Stephanie Hsu, brunch, a long walk through Soho, an eyewitness account of the Wall Street protests, a visit to Apexart to see Fred Hersch's Private Stash exhibit, and a relaxing late afternoon in a hammock in the garden of an East Village apartment.

Wall Street Protests

The last two days have been a whirlwind of activity, and oddly synchronistic.

  • Crittenton Women's Union Senior Vice President & Chief Operating Officer Chuck Carter taught us about inclusive leadership (which social lenses we look through in approaching our work as inclusive leaders; knowing who's in the room and how we can help them support the organization and mission)

  • World Business Forum with Tamara Erickson, Claudio Fernandez-Araoz, and Patrick Lencioni on inclusive leadership and generational lenses through which people see the world and their work

  • Influencer “Change” conference at Saatchi & Saatchi, where Aisha, José-Luis, and I spoke about the El Sistema movement in the U.S, and where the other fellows got to meet many inspiring change-makers

    Abreu Fellows speak at the Influencer Conference on "Change" at Saatchi & Saatchi, October 6 (Aisha Bowden,
    José-Luis Hernández-Estrada, Jennifer Kessler)

  • Gathering at Jamie Bernstein's house with the fellows and Harmony Program Executive Director Anne Fitzgibbon
  • Meeting with Jesse Rosen and Polly Kahn from the League of American Orchestras about the orchestral landscape in the U.S and potential benefits of El Sistema in engaging communities around orchestral music

Children from the Corona Youth Music Project in Queens
  • The musical touch: SFJazz Collective show of Stevie Wonder arrangements and originals by this amazing band of star composer-performers

(Here's their video from last spring of "Do I Do" by Jack Conte of Pomplamoose. If you look closely, you'll see me grooving behind Robin Eubanks, the trombonist, during his solo.)

Monday, October 3, 2011

On More Connections in the El Sistema Movement

The Abreu Fellows and the Longy School of Music came together for two days of exploring best teaching practices in an El Sistema program at the Conservatory Lab Charter School in Boston. This workshop culminated the week for the fellows in working with Lorrie Heagy (Alaskan teacher of the year and former Abreu Fellow), and observing the CLCS program led by first-year fellows Rebecca Levi and David Malek.

What a terrific couple of days. About 35 people came together from around the country (and Canada!) to learn about best teaching practices from Lorrie, and to observe the classes at CLCS. The participants included the fellows, teachers, and El Sistema program leaders. My favorite parts of the two days were Alvaro Rodas (first year Abreu Fellow and director of the Corona Youth Music Project) leading us through a bucket band rehearsal, and the last night, when four of us stood outside a restaurant singing “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot.” What a beautiful way for people to connect.

But there are more connections between fellows and the community... After the restaurant, Stephanie Hsu and I were walking back to the train when a group of students stopped us on the street and asked, “Do you guys have a minute to answer a question?” Of course we said yes, but we really didn't expect this: “Who is the living face of jazz to the average person?” This made me laugh uncontrollably, while Stephanie earnestly thought about it and then gave what I thought was a terrific answer, Esperanza Spaulding.

OK,” said one of the guys, “but between Herbie Hancock and Wynton Marsalis. Who does the average person know?”

Oh boy.

To my amusement, one passerby stopped and proclaimed, “The average person wouldn't know either of them. The average person would say Kenny G.”

Anyhow, this turned into an almost two hour conversation with random people on the street, including a former Russian linguist for the US Air Force, an international business student at Northeastern, and a Puerto Rican pianist at Berklee. Everyone was divided equally about the answer, but it provided fodder for a riveting conversation about jazz, musical perceptions in the US, and musical outreach for social change. Some of the guys even came to our Social Social film night at NEC.

I love Boston-- the quaintness of the city gives us more room to slow down, meet people, ask questions, and discover conversations and people that we might not approach in other places.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Institutional Connections in the El Sistema Movement

Youth Orchestra in Venezuela, July, 2007

Five years ago, I was visiting nucleos in Venezuela with members of the Berlin Philharmonic and the whole time, we discussed how on earth such a program could be adapted to other places in the world. It was tremendous to see so many children engaged in music at such an extraordinarily high level, and to know that for many of these kids, music was the only path through which they could realize their potential in life as human beings and citizens. Ever since then, I've become a strong advocate for bringing qualities of El Sistema to programs in the US and abroad. So it came as a happy surprise and deep confirmation in the power of this program when the Longy School of Music announced to all of us that they are merging with the Bard Conservatory of Music and partnering with the Los Angeles Philharmonic to offer a Masters of Teaching in Music degree, in order to help support the movement by training qualified teachers.

WOW. This means that major institutions around the US are working together in support of music for social change programs. In the five years since I was in Caracas hearing 10 year olds play Mahler like pros, major change has happened in the States to institutionally support El Sistema as a theory of change for young people.

For more information on the merge and this new degree, check out the Los Angeles Times' and the New York Times' articles.

The Abreu Fellows with Lorrie Heagy and the Conservatory Lab Charter School

Rehearsal of the Abreu Orchestra at Conservatory Lab Charter School

This week, the fellows had the wonderful opportunity to experience some of what we've been learning, by visiting the Conservatory Lab Charter School, where first-year Abreu Fellows Rebecca Levi and David Malek direct an El Sistema program. Alaskan teacher of the year Lorrie Heagy (from the same class of fellows as Rebecca and David) spent the week with us unlocking the “magic” behind fully engaging and managing a classroom of children while elegantly scaffolding lessons.

What was surprising to us was how integrated music is into the school day. It seems that children are playing music all day long, in between other subjects. How fantastic!

A day in our week looked something like this:


The fellows learn teaching techniques with Lorrie.

Fellows and Lorrie begin in a circle singing a song as a ritual to begin our day.

Lorrie spends time explaining how she builds lessons with a balance of including songs the kids know with new songs.

In teaching a new song, she breaks different sections down and celebrates each “level” of learning. For example, if you learn the first verse of a tune, she'll say, “Congratulations! You've reached level 1! Take a bow!” before she moves on to the next verse, hand motion, etc.

After teaching us by instruction, Lorrie would notice the energy of the group and say that we needed to “breathe out” by participating in an activity.

The group would get into a circle and sing another song.


Visiting classrooms at CLCS

Observing a Kindergarten classroom where Rebecca and Lorrie would co-teach a class on songs and movement.

Observing orchestras

Observing one of the three orchestras at the school (the Abreu, the Bernstein, and the Dudamel orchestras), and noticing how the techniques we explored with Lorrie were being used in the lessons. The Dudamel orchestra (comprised of older students) sets the bar for the other learning in the school. The younger children see this orchestra, aspire to play in it, and know where they're headed musically and that they need to work hard to get there.

Observing choir

Watching a music class with the choir (all of the children sing as well as play in orchestra). The choir director was fantastic, and I got quite choked up to hear the kids all sing together.


Discussing what we observed, what we noticed about the teaching and learning throughout the day.

After spending a few weeks delving into building strategic non-profit organizations, it was a powerful experience for many of us to see the life of an El Sistema program in Boston, and confirmed our aspirations to contribute to this movement in the best way that we can.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Abreu Fellows Seminar with Eric Booth

September 6, 2011 “Training distinctive 'Habits of Mind.'”

Leading up to our seminar with Eric Booth, Erik Holmgren explained that our time with Booth would be spent asking questions. “Come with any questions you have, and Eric Booth will try to answer them.” I had been fortunate to work with Eric Booth in the past (check out his most recent blog on Columbia's Batuta program) and knew how much fun it is to dig into juicy questions with him, but I took this to mean, “Sure, we'll ask some questions, but they have other plans for us to fill up those five hours besides our just asking questions.”

I was wrong. In fact, the five hours flew by in an instant. Eric has that genius quality of being a master story-teller, and being able to answer the toughest questions in the most thoughtful and elegant way, without missing a beat. When we left, we marveled that we had spent so much time on discussing only a few questions (albeit, really big ones).

While I won't repeat everything here, some questions were asked that I would suspect are on the minds of everyone involved in the El Sistema community. One thing is true: we need to let go of pre-conceived notions about music, about music education, about Venezuela, and begin to shape our “habits of mind” in asking the kinds of questions that will drive our work forward. We're at the beginning of this journey together, and while we most likely can't answer these questions, our search for their answers will help us look with a more critical eye toward bringing the inspiration of El Sistema to children around the U.S.

The monster-sized questions:

  • What learning is different from Western classical traditions of teaching and learning?

  • What is social change? What does it mean to “save” children?

  • What training is happening across the U.S for teachers in El Sistema-inspired programs?

  • How might values of El Sistema disseminate into other fields and learning?

And the questions that – with some time and patience – we may be able to answer a little sooner:

  • What is the verb we're using to describe what we're doing? Are we transplanting El Sistema in the U.S? Reinventing it? Adapting it? Interpreting it? (I personally like the last two. Interpreting is musical; perhaps we're interpreting the El Sistema symphony in a way that creatively engages our own musicians and communities.)

  • How do we create functionality for many different programs with similar missions? (In other words, are there models outside the arts that have worked as a national network?)

  • What are the nay-sayers saying about El Sistema in the USA? (Check out Phyllis Freeman's blog to find out more.)

  • How do we give others interested in the Abreu Fellows program an opportunity to learn more about what we're learning? (One answer: we write about as much as we can, and invite people to seminars when we can. The former Abreu Fellows have blogged extensively-- check out my links to their pages on this blog.)

  • How can we best leverage artists in our communities who want to get involved?

  • When does it make sense for El Sistema-inspired programs to collaborate? Or, what's the point of collaborating?

  • To the last point: What intersects among El Sistema inspired programs are already happening?

  • Seminario with Dan Trahey of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra's ORCHKids

    • A seminario is a Venezuelan concept, kind of like a flash-mob for a musical project. Several kids come together for a short period of time and work on something together intensively. It could be a new piece, a new genre of music, or a workshop with a renowned musician.

    • In Baltimore, Dan Trahey hosted a seminario, in which children from YOURS project in Chicago, Soundscapes from Virginia, and Tune Up Philly from Philadelpha, came to Baltimore to work on several pieces with the OrchKids participants for one day and give a performance together.

    • It was a success!

      • About 157 children connected with one another from different states, and musically, they all gained an intensive experience in which they worked on Ode to Joy and William Tell Overture

      • Many parents and community members came to the final performance

    • This was perhaps the first example of El Sistema-inspired programs in the U.S joining forces for a common musical cause.

Phew! After re-reading this, I'm still wondering, “Why is it important to ask these questions?” Well, the answers will hopefully inform how we make the case for our programs, make decisions that will align with our missions, raise support and awareness for them, and allow us to provide our students and families with the best possible musical learning environments.

If you have thoughts on any of these questions, please comment away. Looking forward to hearing from you.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Some Inspiration from Youth Orchestra LA

The kids from YOLA got to play on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno! AND with Stevie Wonder at the Hollywood Bowl. Talk about transforming a kid's life through music...

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Abreu Fellows: The Beginning (August, 2011)

August 29, 2011
A little background on the weather conditions leading up to the first day of the Abreu Fellows program: Last week, the news indicated that the East Coast would be hit with a hurricane so fierce, so vicious, as to threaten to storm us back to the Stone Age. Leading up to the weekend, stores were running out of milk and toilet paper as people stocked up. At least 370,000 people were ordered to evacuate their homes in New York City. The New York transportation system shut down for the first time in history. Ladies and gentlemen, this was an apocalypse we were talking about.

I had planned to leave for Boston on Sunday, after spending a day leisurely packing and enjoying a day at home in New York. No such luck. After flying back from Switzerland Friday night, I stayed up all night packing, then left on Saturday to catch the last bus leaving Port Authority before everything shut down. After 7 hours, I arrived in Boston and holed up at a friend's house to watch the storm pass.

And in Boston, that's really all it was: a storm.

At the orientation for new students at the New England Conservatory on Monday morning, President Tony Woodcock aptly expressed the beginning of our year, to the effect of “we'll always remember this class as the one that blew in with the storm.”

I'm not going to dwell too much on how that could or could not be an analogy for our journey in the Abreu Fellows program this year. But it did feel oddly appropriate to have weathered a storm as we left everything behind to delve into a program that explores music education as a vehicle for saving the lives of millions of children.

In our first meeting as a group (well, 4/5ths, as Aisha and José Luis got marooned in the Dominican Republic and Mexico from the storm), President Woodcock explained the history of how the Abreu Fellows program began at NEC, how and why the program has changed since its inception in 2009, and why he and his team feel that this program is so important to the field of music and music education. Much to the relief of the Fellows around the table, we learned a little more about our schedules for the year, as well as about the specific classes and projects we'll partake in. Looking around the table, I realized that there were 7 other people who were as passionate about the mission of El Sistema as I am, and equally eager to delve into this work. When I looked at the curriculum for the year, I felt like a pig in... um, mud. But seriously, it dawned on me how awesome it is to join a group of extraordinary people in asking questions, in getting our hands dirty in this work, in learning as much as we can about the exceptional program of El Sistema and how elements of it can be adapted to the U.S and beyond.

Already, several comments and questions emerged around the table that resonated with me. While we search as a group to communicate what we're learning in a way that's interesting and/or helpful, I'd like to simply echo some of the questions and comments that may become themes this year.

  • Leadership at every level of an organization is essential to the success of that organization. In describing the expectations of the Abreu Fellows, President Woodcock, and Leslie Wu Foley (Dean and Executive Director of Preparatory and Continuing Education) explained that this program is not attempting to create 10 new CEOs. Instead, it's positioning us to develop multiple skills that we can take with us to whichever direction we end up pursuing in this field. As Leslie explained, not everyone will start a program from scratch. The field needs more highly qualified people to help run existing programs in multiple ways, and this year's curriculum aims to position us to develop leadership skills necessary for several possible positions besides just CEO. 
  • What is El Sistema? This is a question we will be asked time and again, just as former Fellows have been asked for the last two years. A definition in progress as the program itself evolves and metamorphoses. Thoughts are welcome here. What's your definition of El Sistema? To be continued... 
  • How can we become better contributors to the field? I was overjoyed to hear that Erik Holmgren, our Program Director, has designed this year to be more project-based. We have so much capacity as a group to do something for the field, because we're not currently overseeing programs. We can use this year to make a contribution. Curious to learn more about how we're going to do this, exactly.  
  • Here's a big juicy one: When does it make sense for organizations to collaborate? Or, why do we collaborate, and how? In Venezuela, one major goal of El Sistema is to save children's lives through music. In order to do that, the nucleos work together in many ways to ensure that the maximum number of children can participate in a rich and engaging experience. It would seem natural that in the U.S., organizations would want to learn from each other and share resources to help advance the mission of saving numerous children's lives through music. But does it make sense? How does collaborating impact our fundraising culture? When should we collaborate, and why?
  • El Sistema in Venezuela has been a major supporter of the El Sistema “movement” in the United States. As we begin to identify what that movement looks like and how the El Sistema-inspired programs adapt to the needs of communities in the U.S., it's possible that our programs will look quite different from those in Venezuela. What implications will this have on our relationship with the Venezuelan program? I'll leave this question as it is, as it's probably far more loaded than I'm in any position to explore. But it came up, so here it is.

Update: please visit fellow Abreu Fellow Stephanie Hsu's beautiful blog on the art of getting lost and discovering in the world of education.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Found Sound Nation and the Lucerne Festival, August 2011

August 22, 2011

For the next three weeks, Found Sound Nation is leading a series of projects in collaboration with the Lucerne Festival in Switzerland.

The School Project: a music-writing workshop (using found sounds and audio technology) at a school in Nebikon for 10 boys between the ages of 15-17, and their teachers. Our goal is to give the kids an opportunity to discover their own music, connect with one another, and engage in a fun learning experience.

On Thursday, August 25, we’ll host a party at the “Buvette,” which will include a presentation of our work with the boys, and live mixing of sounds created by the people who stop by the party.

As part of the Spotlight program of the Lucerne Festival Academy, Found Sound Nation will continue over the next two weeks with a street studio project, in which anyone can come off the streets of Lucerne to record and mix sounds in our mobile street studio. The sounds will be posted to our site and/or Facebook page periodically as we mix everything together.

Found Sound Nation and the Lucerne Festival: School Project Day 1

I'm thrilled to be in Lucerne, Switzerland, where Found Sound Nation was invited by the Lucerne Festival to lead a series of projects, including a song-writing workshop for a group of teenagers in Nebikon. This iteration of the Found Sound Nation crew includes Chris, Jeremy, Elena, myself, and our newest member and videographer/musician/projectionist/all-around-awesome-guy Temujin Doran.

August 23, 2011

Accompanied by Johannes Fuchs (the Education Director at the Lucerne Festival), his girlfriend Katarina, and his assistant Melanie, we trekked over to Nebikon from Lucerne this morning at 7.30am. Saddled with musical instruments, audio production equipment, and big ideas for connecting with 17-year old Swiss boys through music, we arrived in Nebikon to the smell of cow dung and the site of marvelous green hills.

The school – which we're told is new and exclusively for students who have been held back in school due to behavioral and social challenges – stood behind the train station, and we were greeted by one of the lovely teachers, Marie-Louisa. After setting up the room (a Zoom here, two laptops there, a projector here, an XLR there), we met with the four teachers who would participate in the workshop alongside the students.

While we had planned to include teachers and staff as much as possible (we encourage everyone to be a participant in our workshops and not merely observers), we hadn't anticipated the challenge this would cause in creating a safe space for the students. We began the day in one room in a big circle: 10 boys between the ages of 15-17, 4 teachers, 3 staff members from the Lucerne Festival, and 5 Found Sound Nationers. Already, there were more adults than students.

Chris and Jeremy began with a warm-up of a game they call Toma Toma, in which one person spends one minute making and recording any sound they'd like for an audio track, and another person builds on that track by creating one minute of his own music. And so on and so forth, until we've recorded multi-layered tracks that can be considered musical vignettes developed as a group. While some of the students participated right away, others were reticent to approach the mic, and we wondered if this was a combination of fear of “performing” in front of peers (it was their 2nd day of school), inhibition to “perform” in front of their teachers, or simply discomfort with working in a setting that was being led in English with German translation (my once-fluent German going to waste in the midst of Schweizer-Deutsch dialect).

We managed to record a few short tracks during Toma Toma before breaking for lunch. Over lunch, we re-assessed our strategy and decided on another approach to invite the students to feel freer to create some meaningful material that they felt they owned.

The strategy was as follows: we'd split into four musical stations and four groups of students, accompanied by a teacher. Each group would have 30 minutes to work at each musical station to create and record music that they liked. In one room, Tem worked with the groups on a piano. The lyric-writing station was led by Elena, a teacher, and Melanie. Jeremy and I developed melodies with the groups (with two French horns, melodica, ukelele, and voices), and Chris worked with the groups on creating beats. At the end of the day, we all came back together to hear the clips that we'd created. Feedback from the day? The students loved the beat-station the best (unsurprisingly; it is exceedingly cool).

(Tem plays the Uke)

What surprised us was the variety of songs that the boys came up with. One student wrote angry lyrics about smoking drugs, envy of brand-name clothes, and wishing ill upon his enemies by explaining that when he has a house with a garden, he'll stick them in the backyard as a little garden gnome (which, although a hateful phrase, couldn't help but be slightly amusing coming out of Switzerland). Another student wrote a moving text about death. Yet another student wrote a heartbreaking love song that was easy to put a melody to, and which we all pleasantly had in our heads the rest of the day.

We look forward to another workshop tomorrow, in which the students will choose which tracks to put together for a full song. Out of nothing, appears something beautiful and bedeutungsvoll.

(Note: this blog will be re-posted to the FSN website with more photos and videos of the students.)

Found Sound Nation and the Lucerne Festival: School Project Day 2

(CONTINUED from Day 1 of Student Workshops in Nebikon)

August 24, 2011

The sessions began today at 8.30am. The students and teachers piled into the large room right on time, and ready to go. It's always fascinating to see the change that people go through once they understand this musical process. Instead of feeling tentative, they're eager to dive right in and create. Already, we noticed that some of the boys sat next to each other, put their arms around one another's shoulders, laughed and joked together like old friends (when they were strangers the day before).

We began by listening to the tracks that Chris and Jeremy had cleaned up (compressed, etc.) the night before (until 3am). For the most part, the students were happy with what they heard. I think that hearing the music they'd written gave them confidence to make more and better musical decisions, and they seemed eager to get to work, developing and combining the tracks into actual songs.

Two of the groups stayed with Chris, Elena, and Melanie, while two of the groups came with Jeremy, Tem, and me. We spent the next two hours re-recording vocals, overlaying additional instruments, adding some extra beats, until finally we had four really great tunes.

But even more remarkable than the music that emerged this morning was the feeling of camaraderie that enveloped us as we worked together. The boys cheered each other on when they heard something they liked; they respectfully listened quietly when we were recording someone; they listened to playbacks huddled together like a team. They trusted Jeremy, Tem, and I not to tell them what to do, but simply to support whatever musical decisions they wanted to make.

There were two examples that really underscore this point about the transformation of some of these young men. I should preface this by saying that we're fully aware of the complexity of using the word “transformation” when it comes to a 1.5 day workshop, and that whatever we noticed might only be a temporary uplifting of moods. Still, there were two moments that highlight what makes this work so damned rich for all of us.

The first example is of a young man, who, on the first day, was totally hyperactive and on the border of being “out of control.” He demanded to be the center of attention, and while he was basically a good kid, he overshadowed the others and made it difficult for them to participate in the music-making. By the second day, as the boys began to bond with one another and form friendships, the unruly one began to settle down. He somehow realized that his opinion wasn't going to trump the decisions of the group, and he patiently waited while others recorded and developed their tracks. He was brilliant at beat-boxing, and seemed happy to bring his skills to the table to enhance the beats of the tunes. I loved watching him soften, becoming aware that it's OK to be part of the group, and not always “on.”

The second example was in regards to the shyest boy of the bunch, and perhaps the one with the worst self-image. Before I continue, I should explain something about myself: in working with children, I am always attracted to the most difficult one, and I find myself drawn to include the kid who sits in the back of the room stewing in his misery and self-loathing. I'm not sure why, but this has always been the case. So it's no surprise that I noticed Michael* (name changed for protection) sitting deliberately further away from everyone in each of our sessions. He made no effort to participate. When we were in the small groups yesterday, I began to understand that he is deeply self-conscious and angry. In that session, I had tried to include him in multiple ways, but continually failed. However, I noticed one thing: he would mutter to himself under his breath, and somehow I understood his voice and the German to know that he was making comments on the music. Things like, “that's not the right beat for this song,” or, “that needs another melody.” He was making musical decisions to himself, without wanting to actively participate.

Today, while we were completing the tracks, we were asking everyone to give us text they'd written that we hadn't used yet. He handed me his text but insisted that he didn't want to use it. When I asked why, he said it sucked. I offered to work with him on developing it if he didn't like it, and asked him some questions about what he didn't like. He wasn't cooperating in the conversation, so I asked him to come to a corner where the rest of the group couldn't hear us. I explained that we didn't have to use his text if he didn't want to, but that we were here to help him make music that he liked. He replied with, “Es ist mir egal” (it doesn't matter to me at all), and “kann ich einfach sitzen und nicht mitteilen?” (can't I just sit and not participate?) Here, I “outed” him by saying, “I don't believe that you don't care. I've overheard you yesterday muttering your opinion about the music under your breath, and I believe you have many opinions about the music. So, what do you think? What would you do with these tunes if you could do anything?” Aha! It was here he snapped (in a good way!) and said, “well, actually, yeah, I don't like the beats you chose to use today, but I loved some of the beats from yesterday that we made. One of them was one of the coolest beats I've ever heard, and I'd like to hear that one again.” Later, Jeremy and I ended up finding the beat he was referring to and including it in a song, and while Michael continued to sit in the back of the room quietly, he smiled when we all listened to the track later and he recognized the beat that he'd chosen for it. Perhaps not the most glorious "teaching moment" on my part (although I was secretly very proud to have conducted our whole conversation in German), but a minor success with a boy who probably rarely gives himself an opportunity to feel proud of his accomplishments.

By the end of the day, we all gathered in one room to listen to what we'd created together. It was fantastic! And the best news of all: the teachers are going to arrange for the students to come to Lucerne for our party at the Buvette on Thursday night, where we'll present the boys' work and explain the project to the public.

While we may not see these boys again after Thursday (or at least for a long time), we hope that they'll walk away knowing that they created and owned something that is exclusively theirs.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

TEDxNewYork moves to Saatchi & Saatchi!

As some of you know, I "inherited" the facilitator/curator role of TEDxNewYork earlier this summer. TEDxNewYork is an independently organized TED event, and our format is simple: we meet weekly, watch a video of a TED talk, and then discuss it for 40 minutes within a diverse and dynamic group of New Yorkers. In the TED spirit of "ideas worth spreading," we share our ideas with each other in a mighty little NY community.

Currently, TEDxNY has a team of moderators, including myself, Gina Bria, Christine Hart, and TEDxNY founders (and licensee) Don McKinney and Chel O'Reilly.

We have some exciting news: TEDxNewYork is moving to Saatchi & Saatchi! The world-renowned creative communications company has graciously invited us to host our salons at their headquarters on 375 Hudson Street. We send many thanks to the team at Grey for all of their support over the years, and will remember our salons there fondly.

If you're interested in getting involved, or if you have any questions, please write to

Friday, August 19, 2011

Friday, August 12, 2011

TEDxNY Salon: August 12, The power of the body to communicate

Today, our guest facilitator Gina Bria chose two shorter videos, which we watched back to back (Ron Gutman's "The Hidden Power of Smiling", and Julian Treasure's "Five Ways to Listen Better"). We enjoyed comparing and discovering the powers of our bodies to communicate. When we left, many more people were smiling at each other. What can you change to become more attuned to your environment, to connect more with others?

Saturday, August 6, 2011

On Writing for the Createquity Fellowship: July 2011

This spring, I wrote for as part of the site's inaugural Fellowship. Our charge was simple: write at least two shorter blogs, and two longer blogs, about topics that interest you. One of the longer blogs needed to be a piece for the Arts Policy Library, to read, summarize, and analyze arts policy literature.

When I learned that I'd received the fellowship, I already knew two topics that I wanted to explore: El Sistema, and jazz audience engagement. I was also interested in learning more about the No Child Left Behind Act, and why schools in the U.S seemed to be suffering under its law. As for the Art Policy Library piece, I was curious about Catterall's work, and eventually read "Critical Links." Ian David Moss, the fellowship and site director, wrote a nice culminating piece about the Fellows' writings.

Here's what I didn't know: how unbelievably long it would take to research and write these pieces. I'm generally a slow writer, but this was ridiculous. Part of the painstaking amount of time I spent on each piece (besides the El Sistema blog, which took maybe an hour to draft) came from a feeling of inadequacy to write about certain topics with any authority. Furthermore, it was hard to balance my inclination to write in a professional tone for this prominent blog, and my interest to not write something that was unreadable in its dryess.

I was happy to recently stumble upon Andrea Sachdeva's research report for the 2009 20UNDER40 book, in which she describes this very same feeling of inexperience among other young arts practitioners. (Disclosure: I had submitted a chapter to the book in 2009, proposing an idea for a Teaching Artist international exchange.)

The initial "Call for Chapter Proposals" for the 20UNDER40 anthology... solicited innovative ideas about the future of the arts and arts education from forward-thinking arts leaders under the age of 40. In considering my own thoughts about preparing a chapter proposal for the anthology, I began to feel that my youth and inexperience made me woefully unqualified to have a voice in the conversation about envisioning the future of the arts sector... [My] colleagues echo[ed] my uncertainties... Evenutally, the concept of 20UNDER40 had stirred up so many raw feelings within the field that project director Edward Clapp was compelled to write "This is Our Emergency," a widely-distributed essay addressing the startling phenomenon of young leaders' feelings of irrelevance and self-doubt that was based on countless emails he had received and conversations he had engaged in with under-40 arts practitioners who repeated the same sentiments."

The good news is, we're not alone! But the even better news is that leaders like Edward Clapp and Ian David Moss have paved the way for some of us to practice writing and hone our style as we develop our ideas about the future of our field. We need not feel intimidated by more experienced arts practitioners and writers; instead, we have a platform to ask questions, discover, and take risks. Writing for Createquity was one of the scariest and time-consuming projects I've ever done, but it also was one of the most important in helping me build confidence as a writer, arts professional, and questioner of the world around me. Many thanks to Ian for this wonderful opportunity. I look forward to cheering on the next class of Createquity Fellows.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

France trip, July 2011

Friday, July 22, 2011

It's always such a pleasure to arrive in Paris. The more often I come, the more I love it. Arriving in Europe feels like coming home.

I watched the Bill Cunningham documentary on the plane ride over and kicked myself for not asking him anything about himself when sharing the elevator with him and his bike so many times at Carnegie Hall. Must remember to look up that woman I see everywhere (Lois Apfel or something, with the huge glasses?)

Practicing, stretching, getting ready for a night at the Sunside with Matt and Baptiste Trotignon. Bill's docu inspired me to put on bright green pants, gold chain with beads, high heels, and red lipstick. It is Paris, afterall...

Before the gig, we enjoyed a delightful meal at Le Hangar, a tiny French restaurant tucked away behind a cobblestone footpath. Starter: Haricots Verts with Parmesan cheese. Main: Dorade, prepared beautifully.

Gig was great. My dear friend Mando came, and it felt like home, catching up and enjoying the music with a soul sister.

Saturday, July 23.
Trip to the Centre Pompidou. Like the first time I went, I was rather underwhelmed. Maybe it's because I just wasn't in the mood for large canvases with paint splashed on it (only original/provocative/whatever the first time it's done), or a string of small Christmas lightbulbs hung sparsely on a wall. Really? The expansive, bright pink shower curtain with yellow designs was fun and made us laugh, but the only real highlight on the 2nd floor for me was the Beuys exhibit of a completely dampened room with felt walls and ceilings, and with a piano in the middle of the room. I loved the quiet, the pressure in the air. Anyhow, the view from the Pompidou is spectacular, of course, and I got my artistic fill by walking up to the next floor and feasting my eyes upon the Matisse, the Kandinsky, and some woman whose paintings I really loved. The usual suspects, but once again, they made me happy.

Dinner: a fantastic restaurant recommended by Jerome, called Le Pré Verre. Delicious lobster and mango appetizer, followed by a glorious fish. Dessert was ridiculous. Maybe the best of the vacation: a molasses ice cream and this deathly chocolate torte. I can still taste it. Wine: a lovely Petit Chablis with a cool label (hand holding a grape).

Another show at the Sunside, so much fun.

Sunday, July 24.

Train to Lyon, car rental, drive to Vienne, where Matt has played a few times at the jazz festival. The town was pretty quiet, but posters everywhere reminded you that a jazz festival took place not long before. Vienne is a charming city on the banks of the Rhone river. After dumping our stuff, we went for a long walk through the old Roman town. Tried seeing the stage where the festival takes place, but when we had to pay, we decided against it and continued walking up a steep hill road, near the cemetery, and then through a cute street called “Chemin des Amoreux.”

Ended our walk by looking at more ruins. Went for a run along the river, then enjoyed a spectacular dinner at Le Verre en L'Air.

My meal included the best gaspacho I've ever had (and I don't generally like gaspacho) with a whipped goat cheese topping that looked like whipped cream. The main course was a Fondant de Julienne with a pureed bean topping and “sauce mouclade.” Basically, the chef ground up and pureed a fancy fish and then shaped it back into a rounded form that looked like pate. Really creative, unless of course you're an LA Jew like me, in which case it tasted and looked disturbingly like Gefilte fish.

Tons of cheese after the main course, followed by the other highlight of the evening (after the soup): a crème brulee infused with fresh mint. Probably the best I'd ever had. The wine was perfect with the meal: a 2010 Alain Paret Viognier.

Monday, July 25.
Cote Rotie wine tasting! Domaine Clusel-Roch, where a charmless young man in dirty clothes served us several wines at about 10am. I love this about the French wineries: you can tell that the people who run them are really like farmers, and that the estates have been in their families for ages. These are people who know their land inside and out, and who tend to wine as if it were their children. We went home with several bottles.

This was followed by another couple of places (one was a wine store and I fell asleep in the car). On our way to Chateau de Fontager, we stopped in a gas station cafe, where Matt noticed an All Blacks teddy bear on the wall. (All Blacks is the New Zealand rugby team.) Turns out the owner is a huge fan, and he ran to the back to bring us a picture of himself holding up a little baby in an All Blacks onesie (his grandson). He sent us across the road for a tasting of Cornas and Condrieu.

Arrival at Chateau de Fontager, a very cool and very large chateau on the way to Tain l'Hermitage. Cute, funky rooms. Could have spent a couple more days there lounging around the pool, if the weather were nicer.

Dinner in Tain l'Hermitage at another ridiculous restaurant. 4th gourmet meal of the trip, hooray! No wine for me, as I was all wined out from the tastings.
My meal:
Starter: black spaghetti with calamari
Main: Filet du Merlu (a nice fish over tasty veggies)
And for the best part of the meal: Vacherin a l'abricot bergeron en verrine, which translates roughly to “creamy fresh apricot mouth-gasm with crumbly moist goodness on the bottom."

Tuesday, July 26.

10am, trip to Valrhona chocolatier. Jennifer goes a bit crazy with the myriad of samples around the store and gorges on truffles, and all manner of chocolate pieces imaginable. She ate for her own pleasure. She ate for her sister, who couldn't be there. She ate for her mother, whom she knew would appreciate it. Then she ate some more for herself. She left not wanting to eat sugar ever again.

Of course, then we arrived for a degustation (wine tasting) in Cornas, at the tasting room of Alain Voge (my favorite of the places we tasted). Lovely wines, need some time, but yum.

Driving to Uzes, beautiful vines everywhere. Amazing fort on the top of a hill (Chateau de Crussol) jutting out over a steep cliff. Shall we see it? Absolutely.

Turn around and drive up, park, walk up beautiful path towards an old Roman fortress. I do a headstand, to see the top of the world from a different view. Like children, we climb around the old walls, peering through old windows and wondering who used to live there, what they saw when they looked down at the valley. A beautiful day.

Lunch in Montelimar, where we couldn't stop singing “Savoy Truffle” by The Beatles. Underwhelming town, though we did stop briefly at the huge pink nougat factory. Lunch of cheese and bread, and some veggies, sitting on a stoop and ready to leave.

Arriving at the Best Western hotel in Uzes around 7pm. Straight to see our friends Clare and Olivier at Olivier's aunt and uncle's place off a tiny street in seemingly the middle of nowhere (aka Saint Quentin de la Poterie). Lovely home, built entirely by Denis (the uncle). This 83-year old man could be a character out of a movie, like Louis Defunay. We played a good game of petanque, in which my trusty teammate and coach Denis continuously stood in first position, pointed downwards, and insisted, “La! La!” to indicate where I should through the ball. It never went there. Nonetheless, he seemed a proud coach when once or twice I accidentally tossed the ball to a relatively good location.

Denis and Jeannine didn't speak English, nor did Olivier's 89-year old grandmother. But we enjoyed a terrific meal of tomatoes from their garden (with the best pepper I've ever had, and local olive oil), an omelette for us veggies, a gigantic plate of probably the richest and tastiest cheese I've ever eaten (the Roquefort! The Camembert! The hard goat's cheese!), dessert, and a nice Cote Rotie from 2004 but tasting like it was from the 80's. I particularly liked the Poire eau de vie from my birth year, 1981. It was handsome and smooth and perfect.

Wednesday, July 27.
To the market in the morning with Clare and Olivier. A feast for the eyes in herbs, olive oils, lavender sprays, fruits, veggies, and specialties like walnut spreads from a monastery (sold by a nun with missing teeth).

Lunch at Olivier's grandma's. Everything was so fresh, so full of taste.

A game of tennis between Olivier and Matt at our Best Western courts, with Clare kindly hitting the ball towards me and my feeble attempt at hitting it back. A little yoga on the courts, and it was time to go. Back to Denis and Jeannine's for a good-bye, then Matt and I headed back to the lovely old city of Uzes. Wandered around, poked our heads into stores, wine cellars, art galleries, simple dinner of pizza and salad (NO MORE rich food).

Thursday, July 28.

Jennifer practices horn in the car while Matt hits some balls on the court. Drive to Pont du Gard, avoid the 15 euro parking by parking on the street and following some French people down a path. It was a much longer walk than we'd expected, but beautiful, with old stone arches in ruins throughout a vast forest. Sunny, open skies, gorgeous light, shrubbery everywhere. We walked and walked until finally: WHAM. A huge perfect arch-way structure, constructed by the Romans, right smack in between two hills, totally unexpected. It was magnificent, especially how it crept up on us out of nowhere.

Drive to Arles, arrive in Trinquetaille at the home of Rosalbe and Thierry (and their 10-year old son Yihmbert). Emra, our friend with the house in Quissac with whom we were meant to stay, had her water shut off, so she took us along with her to her friends' place. We had no idea what to expect, but it turned out to be the most wonderful turn of events. We fell in love with the Italian, red-haired, prominent-featured Rosalbe and the good-natured, music-enthusiast husband Thierry. They hardly spoke English, so the evening rolled out in a mess of Italian, French, and English, with Emra and Matt at the helm of translation. It was one of those evenings that only happen when unplanned: sipping rosé in the garden for what felt like hours, eating a delicious meal prepared by Emra, moving to the sofas at some point to continue chatting, my having had just enough wine to grab a guitar and sing Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan, Jeff Buckley, and some of my other favorites for everyone. Matt and I sang a rendition of “Tea for Two.” We were awash in Gemutlichkeit: a warmth, a deep love for the evening and the company.

Friday, July 29.

Lunch with Emra in Arles, a very cool old Roman town. We fell in love with Arles. Its winding Roman streets, its colliseum, the fragrant air, the sleepy Rhone, the little square that wasn't a square at all but a random shape where Matt really wanted to enjoy a Rosé. We ambled slowly through the tiny streets, drunk with the sun and the perfect air, the scents and sounds of a quiet French town in which most of the residents were on holiday.

Finally, we made our way back to the house. I went for a run in some fields behind the house in a developing community with new houses and new concrete cul-de-sacs. No idea where I was, just ran and ran. After, we joined Rosalbe, Thierry, Yimbert, and Emra at an outdoor Mexican/Columbian concert along the river, where we had a terrific time getting plastered on the Clusel-Roch Rosé and dancing wildly to the music. It was truly a blast, and the out-of-focus pictures that were taken that evening are testament to the wine. We managed to get home, only to raid the fridge of cheese, and then eat a full wheel of camembert, followed by half a log of goat cheese (which literally tasted like the grass the goats had eaten. It was so damned good). Awoke around 4am pondering the amount of cheese I had just consumed.

Saturday, July 30.
Matt and I leave for the south. Glorious drive, passing a gigantic flock of birds on huge rocks near Aix-en-Provence. The light cast the most incredible hues across the valleys of vines and fields. Arrive in La Londe, right by the sea. A sigh of happiness. Stayed in the crappiest hotel, but it didn't matter. Went directly to the sea, where I read my book for a long time while Matt and Baptiste did sound-check.

Ate thick, savory octopus and couscous, with sides of other seafood salad in the Jazz a La Londe crew tent. Drank a rosé. The light couldn't have been more perfect: a golden red, a photographer's paradise. Baptiste Trotignon trio played on the adorable little festival stage, with the sea as the backdrop. We were wasted afterwards, went back to the hotel and crashed.

Sunday, July 31.
I insisted on driving to the beach once more to see the sea before going to Quissac. So we did, drove really out of our way, but it was probably the highlight of our driving trip. Tiny driving paths through Provence vineyards, the light shining spectacularly in that special Mediterranean way, and arriving at a beach that could be out of a novel (Fort de Bresancon). Apparently, Nicholas Sarkozy and Carla Bruni have a summer home around there. We feasted on delicious Pyrenees de Brebis cheese (again, like eating the grass that the animals ate), fresh apricots, Reine Claudes (little plums), radishes, carrots, and yummy fresh bread. It couldn't have been any better.

Drive to Quissac. Another fascinating experience. We really had no idea what to expect when Emra told us she'd bought a huge villa that was basically unlivable, and that she and her kiwi boyfriend were trying to fix it up. All we knew was that it was in the middle of nowhere, that it was huge, and that there was currently no water. We drove and drove, through tiny roundabouts, through tiny villages, through fields of Languedoc vineyards, through sunflower patches. We kept driving. Finally, we pulled up a path where a gigantic grey stone house loomed in the distance. “That can't be it,” Matt said. “Yes it could be,” I replied, “and I think it is.” Indeed, we had reached Mas de Figueroa.

First, we went to the town to play some tennis (super fun). When we returned, I played Bach cello suites in the vaulted room (best acoustics I've ever heard for horn).

Then we ate dinner in Emra's garden. We slept in a vaulted room that used to be where the wine was made, and you had to walk over some planks that covered two 10-foot-deep wells in order to reach the floor where our air mattress lay. Some of the planks were missing towards the front, leaving a gigantic gap that you could easily fall into if you lost your footing. The only light that came in was from a tiny window, which looked out onto beautiful vineyards and trees.

She showed us around the “house,” which hadn't been lived in in 30 years. It was huge. They'd turned two of the rooms into a very cute living area.

Monday, August 1.
Drive to Argeles-sur-Mer, stop first in Bouzigues, a beautiful tiny town on the sea, for their famous oysters. We ate oysters and mussels that tasted like we'd pulled them directly from the sea.

Next stop: Carcassone, a very cool and annoyingly overcrowded Medieval town. We wandered around for a bit, then got tired of the tourists and left.

Tried wine at a winery in which the winemaker used to work for one of the most famous Burgundy wineries. He was arrogant. The wines were nice, though. We bought a couple of bottles and left.

Next: the beautiful beach near Narbonne. It was about 6.30pm, and I went for a dip in the sea. Vast sandy beach, lovely hills nearby, perfect weather. Game of frisbee.

Arrival in Argeles-sur-Mer, a hilarious town close to Collieure (where we'd hoped to stay but couldn't find a place). For every time we'd wondered where all the locals had gone in the towns we'd visited, we decided that they'd all ended up here. There were thousands of French people everywhere, poorly dressed and enjoying their holidays on the beach. The hotels were pink and kind of crappy-looking, and there was terrible techno music pumping from the bars. Kitschy beach stores were open late for buying plastic jewelry and t-shirts. But somehow, I loved it. It was such an incongruous place for us to end our holiday, and something about the festivity in the air was contagious. We ate mussels and salad, then wandered around the mini theme park. Laughed at some of the rides, rode one called “Tron” which had nothing to do with the movie, but was like if the Star Wars ride at Disneyland were a car race instead.

[Things you could win at the casino]

Tuesday, August 2.
Drive to Barcelona! So very excited to see this city I'd always wanted to see. We got to the pension, dumped our stuff, I practiced a bit, and then we ran off to the Sagrada Familia, the huge Gaudi cathedral. It was breathtaking. I literally became speechless when I walked out of the subway, turned around and saw it. The facade looks like it's melting. The gargoyles are animals like lizards and snails, because he wanted as many images of nature as possible protecting the church. Huge colorful balls stood atop the turrets. It looked like something out of Disneyland, only it had taken 50 years for just the facade to be completed. We walked all the way around, marveling at it. One day I'll return to go inside and spend the day admiring the details.

Then a long walk up a steep hill to the Park Guell, a huge park with Gaudi everywhere. Apparently, it was meant to be an artist's community, and a place where the wealthy could have their homes, but instead it became a park protected by UNESCO. Quite spectacular. We were in the best spirits, if not a bit tired.

For dinner, we pigged out at a tapas place, where the portions were much larger than we'd thought they'd be (octopus, cuttlefish, potatoes, bread, garlic mushrooms). The highlight was the two bottles of cider that we drank. Incredibly full, we managed to walk through the gothic quarter, through Placa Real, and through another square that Matt wanted to show me from his 5 weeks there in 2007. I loved the city, and look forward to returning again to explore it further.

Wednesday, August 3.
Leave on Swiss Air after a perfect vacation. To top off an already amazing holiday, we had business class seats. To quote Matt upon arriving in our seats with massage and bed functions: “Ah, it's good to be home!”