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.