Thursday, December 30, 2010

“how business principles can be applied to solve social problems”

Happy Old Year everyone! I just wanted to share this article:

David Wish advocates music education using popular genres in schools. The website has some resources for the kids that I had fun playing with:

Another site worth looking at
This website confirms what Beth Babcock spoke about making non-profits look more like for-profits.

Finally, Ashoka is an association of social entrepreneurs.
Here is an interesting post:

The first part of my answer is always that the process is organic and that the right approach for one person might be completely different for another. Let’s face it –we’re all different and our ideas are a reflection of that unique individuality. Nevertheless, I think there are a couple things that apply across the board that can contribute to a solid foundation for new idea. Here are five things to consider:
• Self-reflect - you are looking for that sweet spot where your passions, talents and abilities meet an existing need. The first step in mastering that is understanding yourself and taking the time to reflect.
• Step outside your comfort zone –escaping your normal routine and experiencing new things produces the perfect backdrop for idea generation – you are more likely to look at things differently, notice things you haven’t before and feel that ‘spark’ you’re looking for.
• Write everything down – this allows you to store and revisit everything you’ve come up with. It’s important not to be picky with what you record, though - this limits the possibilities.
• Constantly review your earlier ideas – this gives you a chance to organize, combine and prioritize all of your thinking. More than anything it gives you the opportunity to expand upon ideas with strong potential.
• Surround yourself with the right people – perhaps one of the most crucial aspects of this process is the sounding boards you line up. You want to surround yourself with people who are both encouraging and constructive – these shouldn’t be people shoot your idea down prematurely nor people who blindly endorse everything you propose.

This post was submitted by Arthur Woods. He is a Co-Founder of Compass Partners, a social business incubator with fellowship programs for college students dedicated to training social entrepreneurs across the country. Learn more about Compass Partners here.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

When I teach, I learn; when I learn, I teach.

Conductor as defined by Wikipedia: the act of directing a musical performance by way of physical gestures.

Max Rudolf has a better description in his book The Grammar of Conducting. In his preface he writes: “Part musician, part actor, the conductor pursues a craft which is not easily defined.” He goes on by explaining that if a musician sees a competent conductor s/he can become competent at conducting without formal instruction.

The introduction delves into the complexity of conducting; the conductor has knowledge of composition, musical styles, basic knowledge of instruments, ability to score read, play piano, perfect pitch (helpful, not a necessity), talking/working with people, knowledge of psychology, and technique.

So why is it that not ALL musicians consider themselves conductors? At some basic level all musicians receive this knowledge, especially as one continues up the educational ladder. Why is it that only few musicians have the privilege to be called conductors? Shouldn’t all musicians be encouraged (by their teachers) to follow up on all the skills mentioned by Rudolf?

Take a look at this guy....

In the documentary The Gift of Music, Lenny says "When I teach I learn, when I learn, I teach."

Exemplary teaching below....

The conductor is a role model: someone that is continuously developing their human capacity; s/he are guided by her/his own role models into autonomy. The student taught in this manner is not a subordinate (or oppressed, as Freire would say) of the conductor, rather, the student conductor makes a choice to follow another fellow conductor. I want to believe that the most amazing orchestras in the world are organisms that have self directed and autonomous individuals! I believe Rudolf is on to something when he states that it is possible to learn how to be a conductor if you have a wonderful conductor role model.

Students have to be guided through the process of becoming, they have to be taught how to practice and problem solve. In order for those to happen, you have to foster reflective listening skills - the student plays and the teacher asks what they heard - and practice practicing with the students. Always ask: WHY? Why they did that? Why did that work, or not? Then, HOW? How can you make this better?

I take Bernstein's words very seriously. If you want someone to learn something, you have to understand how that individual (or group of individuals) learns. It has to be a conversation in order for a meaningful exchange or change to happen - and not in lecture form (don't do this, that bowing is wrong).

Ultimately, we are our own masters. As teachers we can only hope to say the right thing for students to have an AH moment. Students could be having those moments a lot more often if they discover how to seize control of their own learning experiences. Educators must have a personal commitment to guide and cultivate those habits of mind.

I have this crazy idea that if we were to teach all of our students the conductor model that they would prosper, not only as musicians, but as human beings.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Pasión y compasión

“Passion with compassion” was the phrase Norman used a couple of weeks ago when referring to El Sistema. This play on words (con pasión in Spanish means with passion) is to me fundamental to any nucleo, you just gotta hear them playing!

"Compassion is that which makes the heart of the good move at the pain of others. It crushes and destroys the pain of others; thus, it is called compassion. It is called compassion because it shelters and embraces the distressed." - The Buddha

The two speakers that have made a deep impression in my thinking have been Beth Babcock (interview link) and Sebastian from Community Music Works. Beth advised that the most difficult thing to do is to continue running a successful organization throughout the years. She came in with passion and was “in your face” about the struggles of non-profit organizations. Sebastian and Chloe from Community Music Works - completely different energy, but equally passionate - presented a model that really interests me. This work is embedded in the community (RI) and the program has grown very organically - Community Music Works (CMW) has been around for 14 years!

Beth said that running a non-profit resembles for-profit in a lot of ways. So lets analyze the cookie cutter business model.

  • You have to offer a product that is unique: El Sistema - pass.
  • You have to offer it to the right market: at-risk-youth population - pass.
  • Value (exceeds costs): Offers life skills, community and individual empowerment, self-esteem - “for everything else there is a credit card”.


How can we put a value on humanity development? That is a tough question to answer because equity, sustainability, production and empowerment are difficult to measure.

Why does assessment matter? For funding purposes. Your data has to support your claim that your business is yielding concrete results in your product. El Sistema inspired programs located in the US cost an average of $3,000 child yearly (varies by state). In the traditional school system the input output ratio of cost per student is determined by measuring it against a parameter such as school performance or attendance. If the mission of the program is to transform lives, how can you measure that output in measurable outcomes?

Don’t get me wrong I think art education can be assessed and I am all for it, however I have a problem with the model we are using in education. The teacher is the source of knowledge and kids receptively listen, then they have to take a test to see if they understood the material, if they didn’t understand it they fail the test. If you are interested in crazy-genius perspectives go here.

It wasn’t until I started studying music education that I started having radical ideas. I had never heard of Freire until this summer, and then BAAAM it made perfect sense! How come we didn’t learn about him in our education courses?!! I am ranting, my apologies!

Sebastian put it perfectly - How can we assess the impact music has on a person (intrinsic vs extrinsic)? In CMW they are looking at self-esteem, motivation, and participation in the community. Civic engagement is a large factor; students create their own performance in the community about an issue that affects them and thus their community. In the self-esteem assessments, teachers interview students six times in a term and complete a follow up interview with family of some of those students. CMW is interested with how to get students interested in their own learning!

Very succinctly stated by one of the fellows: The business approach seems to grow fast, its worried in production- (seems to be against Freire ideology) - community music works took very long to build because its built on respect and human growth.

I am still wrestling with thoughts on how to combine and balance both approaches in order to sustain and serve.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Rebecca y David

Rebecca Levi and David Malek came today to talk about how they began in the Conservatory Lab Charter School. It was wonderful to be able to interact with two of the fellows from last year and to hear how they began their adventures. They discussed inquiries mostly about the hiring process, aligning beliefs with the curriculum, assessment, and scheduling.

David and Rebecca believe in music literacy, and they structured their curriculum around this philosophy. David said musicians are trained to access music from the past, but have not been trained to have access to their own voice. The equivalent of only being able to speak the dialogues from plays and never being able to communicate your own thoughts.

Another thing that struck me was the amount of emphasis put teacher development and creating a nurturing environments for the teachers as well. The teachers are also learning continuously, and are always looking for ways to connect with one another. The teachers use the CATS framework, Citizen-Artist-Teacher-Scholar.

Citizen: The teacher has patience, self-esteem, perseverance, self-awareness, and develops the community through his/her teaching.

Artist: “The ability to learn and master artistic processes, resulting in highly skilled musical performance, composition, listening, analysis, reading, and reflective thinking skills, as well as knowledge of musical works, creative processes and learning skills”.

Teacher: “The ability and desire to provide musical effective instruction, coaching, and personal mentoring in wide range of musical settings that include the ability to present talks about musical works and advocate music education to general audiences and musical leaders”

Scholar: “The ability and desire to research, reflect, advocate, and otherwise think about one’s personal, artistic and educational work while taking into account a wide range of historical psychological, social, and artistic perspectives and sources.”

The teachers were selected based on teaching auditions, not just on experience and CV. The cool about this program is that teachers are given flexibility with the way they teach. Rebecca said “ you get great teachers when they are in love with the content”, so they are creating ownership in the program. Also the teachers are evaluated and assessed just as much as the kids’ progress. David and Rebecca are awesome people, and I appreciated them sharing their thoughts and experiences with us!

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Thursday the Fellows attended the panel with the presidents of three leading institutions: Dean Benjamin Juarez (College of Fine Arts, Boston University), Robert Sirota (Manhattan School of Music), Tony Woodcock (New England Conservatory). The three questions were based on the topic: Discerning New Visions for Music Conservatories: Lessons from El Sistema.

  1. The role of major institutions in an evolving field.
  2. Insight into how El Sistema has influenced the panelists and their institutions.
  3. How their institutions will empower their students and engage them in the community.

This a summary of notes I took during the panel and my opinions. I would love to hear what readers have to say, so I encourage you to write comments.

Mr. Juarez explained that students have a social responsibility similar to Dr. Abreu’s ideal of El Sistema. Mr. Sirota said that the conservatory is a model that has not changed. On a side note I am going to do what I call the “Eric Boothian” approach: because conservatory comes from the word conserve, Mr. Sirota is correct, this model has not changed because its purpose is to preserve tradition.

We have seen traditions disappear and evolve; and new ones appear faster than they can be documented. Everything about our lives has changed drastically in the past 100 years! The conservatory is running on a model based on 1797 France. In a nutshell - its outdated!

Mr. Woodcock (not this Tony Woodcock) spoke about the NEC’s efforts in adapting to change through their Community Performance and Partnership Program, and the Abreu Fellowship. These are examples of how conservatories can foster the idea of the musician as skilled and valuable beings from which the community can benefit beyond the concert halls. In his words, “training organizations can ferment change” through their students. The ideal artist is a responsible citizen that serves as an outstanding model for its community, and it is a mirror from which the community can see themselves as. Art is at the service of the community, not solely based on ticket sale. This is one of the leading ideals of music in El Sistema.

During the panel discussion, an audience member posed the question of how these ideal artists will find themselves drawn into these institutions if the admission criteria of conservatory focuses on students with technical ability, basing their decisions on tapes, and not on interviews? Clare Twohy succinctly stated, “who is an artist?”

The answer was along the lines of - product quality cannot be sacrificed. Conservatories and other schools have been seen as elitist, as Mr. Sirota himself said, but maybe it is time to stop seeing human beings for what they can produce, but for how they can be of service to society beyond the concert hall.

The fellows were overflowing with questions, so then someone asked, “well what does that [who is an artist?] have to do with El Sistema?” I think it has much to do with El Sistema. If we have learned anything in these few weeks is to learn about your environment! We have to understand how these major institutions fit into the social ecosystem and find ways to partner in order to accomplish goals that benefit the community, not the empty seats in concert halls. We can only do this through an open atmosphere of collaborative dialogue, so I encourage these panels to continue flourishing.

Friday, October 15, 2010


“Everyone loves classical music…. they just don’t know it.”

-Ben Zander-

One of the questions raised by Adrienne on Friday really intrigued me. Is classical music cultureless? To answer what is not, we need to answer what is, first. The word culture comes from the Latin colere, meaning “to cultivate”. Webster further defines it as:

2. The act of developing the intellectual and moral faculties especially by education.

5. The integrated pattern of human knowledge, belief, and behavior that depends upon the capacity for learning and transmitting knowledge to succeeding generations.

It is important to note that the meaning of culture has evolved, and should not be confused with the definition of high and low culture that emerged during the 19th century. Matthew Arnold in Culture and Anarchy (1869) saw culture as “[…] being a pursuit of our total perfection by means of getting to know, on all the matters which most concern us, the best which has been thought and said in the world […]” I believe these two ideals, perfection and the best of, have deeply influenced our thinking, creating a divide in our social construct. The problem that I have with "ideal" when applied to music is how do we then decide what is the best of the best, or when a performance was perfect? Who are we to judge that the gamelan is less perfect (or more) than a symphony orchestra?

The other definition of culture provides a broader context by including knowledge, belief, and behavior. Through the process of socialization, culture takes shape first through the family and eventually through the community. It is in the family/community environment that music culture is communicated and becomes part of an individual. This process of communicating culture is very flexible and organic. Any type of interaction we have as humans involves communicating (from the Latin to make common; to participate, join, unite, impart, and to share), thus music is a form of communication. In order to make it successful communication, it has to be meaningful and engaging. I have vivid recollections of my mother's standing ovations after a performance, which would make me incredibly embarrassed as a teenager. In my standards I had not performed perfectly, but now I understand that my performance was meaningful to her and her standing was just her way of communicating and reciprocating feelings. Music cannot be cultureless, but culture-full, because it lives in, through, and beyond us. This is why it is so powerful and universal.