Monday, December 31, 2012

First three months at OSL, August: A Quandry about Violins

August, Part 2

Violin program questions
As the summer went on, it became clearer that our new vision for the Education department would look something like this:

The Education & Community Programs of OSL are committed to giving people opportunities to develop deep relationships with music and one another through connecting with the extraordinary collection of musicians of OSL, participating in music, and utilizing the state-of-the-art spaces at The DiMenna Center.

We were fairly certain by August that our future programs would fall into 3 categories: Access, Engagement, and Play (or something along those lines). To do this, we were also fairly certain that we’d launch an intensive music program based on El Sistema in our local neighborhood, and become a hub for existing El Sistema-inspired programs to add value to their program by building opportunities for children in their programs to connect with one another across the city and work with members of OSL.

There was one little issue, though, with how this jived with our existing programs. Most of our school partnerships were arts integration/curriculum based. That is to say, we developed a curriculum and our teaching artists created lesson plans, met with classroom teachers, and implemented the curriculum in our school partner classrooms in preparation for attending the Free Youth Concerts. A couple of years ago, one of our local partner schools wanted violin instruction instead, and we launched a program in which a musician from the orchestra taught small classes of violin students one day a week in school.

Now there is another partner school, which we’d decided to shift from the curriculum-based model to a violin instruction model. This decision was made before I had arrived, and the change had been negotiated amongst our funders, the school, and the parents and teachers of that school. The school was so excited for us to have a violin program, but as I was looking at the program, I wondered, Does it really make sense to launch a violin instruction program at this second school this year when we know it’s going to change dramatically next year? Most likely, a future program would be after school, and we can’t assume that many of the students participating in an in-school program will want to join an intensive after-school program. Furthermore, does it make sense to train teachers to teach violin in this program when the nature of the program will change to become far more intensive? Do we really have the time to invest in preparing a violin teacher for this program so that the program is at the level we want it to be?

Well, Mark and I went out to the school to meet with the music teacher and Principal. And again, I was reminded of that lesson about listening to people. Although Mark had told me this several times, I heard from the music teacher that she had fundraised herself to get enough money from the parents to pay for the violin program, and there were many students who were excited about joining it. On the way back to the office, I wondered, “What would Abreu do?” And I knew the answer immediately: Give the kids violins. You’ll figure out what to do with them and the program later, but for now, only good can come of putting violins in their hands.

We did make a few changes to ensure that we’d have the time we needed to prepare for the program sufficiently, so we agreed with the school to start in January as opposed to in the Fall. And we’ve asked the school to join us in planning sessions in January as we explore launching a Sistema-inspired program in our neighborhood.


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