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.

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