Monday, December 31, 2012

OSL in December Part 3: NYC El Sistema Seminario

Seminario, December 12

The moment of realization that this day was turning into a success came while I stood in a pitch-dark room. You could not see your hand in front of your face, let alone the faces or instruments of the dozen or so other people in the room with you. 

And yet it was here, while I listened to Victor, a percussionist with the Simon Bolivar Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela, enthusiastically explain to his 3 young students that it’s necessary to feel the music, to see the rhythm not with our eyes but with our hearts, that I felt the same inspiration and excitement at learning and teaching  music as I did when I last visited Venezuela in April. Victor wouldn’t let up—the children said, “But we can’t see our mallets! How are we supposed to play?” And he insisted, “Just listen! Listen to this… imagine you’re in a forest in Brazil…” We all began to hear rhythms coming from the center of the room (he must have found a conga or something similar in the darkness). He played the most intricate rhythms that filled the darkness with its beats as it grew in dynamic and pace. While we were taken over by the sounds, he shouted, “Now join me!” There were protests above the drumming of “But we can’t SEE!” to which Victor replied: “You don’t have to see! You need to feel it! That’s what being a percussionist is all about! Play with your hands if you can’t find your mallets!” Slowly, we could hear the students joining in, and the sound grew and grew until we had in our Learning and Media room at The DiMenna Center a true drum circle, made up of one young adult Venezuelan, two 9-year olds, and a 7 year old beginner. When Victor finally allowed the lights to be turned on, the children were grinning ear to ear; they had learned the rhythm and were playing along with their teacher with victory in their eyes.

Many of the other students’ experiences were similar throughout the day. Imagine 150 young students from across New York City El Sistema-inspired programs, working all day long at The DiMenna Center with members of the Simon Bolivar Symphony Orchestra and playing together in a final performance in Cary Hall, brimming over with proud parents, teachers, program directors, and friends. Carnegie Hall did a remarkable job of bringing everyone together (this wouldn’t have happened without their initiative) and organizing the details of the day, and the OSL team did an outstanding job ensuring that day ran as smoothly as possible at our spaces.

But what’s most interesting for me is what some of the outcomes were for the students. I think we assumed most of this, but I thoroughly enjoyed talking to the kids afterwards and asking them what they thought of the day.

“I loved being surrounded by the sound of a big orchestra. I’ve never played in an orchestra that large before!”

“I liked getting to meet and play with other kids from different parts of the city.”

“I really liked learning from the Venezuelan musicians—I learned so much about my instrument and the music today!”

“I liked coming to this building—it felt special to play here.”

And we didn’t pay them to say any of that!

Were there things we could have done differently? Absolutely. Did we miss opportunities to engage the families who were in the room and to make deeper connections among the students? Most likely. But for a first go-around at a Seminario, everyone seemed to have an excellent time.

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