Editorials

The Ensemble seeks to connect and inform all people who are committed to ensemble music education for youth empowerment and social change.

In Times of Conflict, Music Is Its Own Language

10-06-2021

Music is a shared language—and, as we all know, children learn languages easily. Their innate linguistic capabilities enable them, with all their different rhythms and tonalities, to learn simply by listening, absorbing, and imitating. Most important, they don’t make judgments about which language is more important than another.

The Ensemble Evolves with Its Community

10-05-2021

The change you will see in the next issue of The Ensemble is another evolutionary step. We’ve realized that this field we are making together is no longer usefully separated by national or continental borders. Practitioners travel across borders; challenges are common across borders; the experiments and discoveries in one place are increasingly relevant and valuable in others. And the solidarity we need to grow in power as a movement is stronger when it’s active across borders.

Toward Justice

09-07-2021

This is a field that can, at times, feel at odds with itself. How can we use orchestral music—a system deeply entrenched in hierarchy, in exclusivity, in elitism, and in a Eurocentric framework—as a means of moving toward equity and social justice? It is difficult to conceptualize the orchestra as a model for equity when there are hierarchal layers—conductor, concertmaster, principals, section players—engrained in the art form.

Diversity Corridors: Collaborative Practices for Community in Africa

09-01-2021

The survival needs of underserved populations in rural areas and settlements across African cities, where basic sustenance overrides concepts of heritage, identity, and culture, have led many to interrogate the arts’ role in building social foundations for community.

Nevertheless, many community-based instrumental music programs have been founded to preserve those very foundations. Though these programs tend to work in isolation, there is much to be gained from creating corridors among them in Africa.

Using Music Learning to Help Our Young People Rebuild Affective Ties

08-04-2021

The pandemic has not been just a biological or epidemiological problem. It has also created enormous disruptions in our social and affective lives. Especially in the spaces of education and social interaction, it has inhibited all the imperceptible links that unite us and that allow us to interact socially. For our children and youth, this has produced reluctance, lack of interest and enthusiasm, and, in some cases, depression. A year of isolation changes people—especially young people—and their perspectives on what is important in life.

Finding a New Way Forward: Examining the Sustainability of Labor Practices in El Sistema

08-03-2021

According to the Labor Department, a record 4 million people quit their jobs in April alone (“As the Pandemic Recedes, Millions of Workers are Saying ‘I Quit,’” NPR). This resignation seems especially spurred by a great shift in priorities due to pandemic-related situations (fears of unsafe workplaces, decreased pay or furloughs, layoffs, etc.), but it also seems that in this “once-in-a-lifetime” moment, many people have taken stock of their lives and their jobs and simply said, “Enough.”

After six years of full-time work in the El Sistema field, I too followed this line of thinking. Like the millions of Americans who put in their notice in 2021, I decided to leave.

The Importance of Contextualized and Conflict-Sensitive Sistema Programs

07-07-2021

As I listened to the episode, I had a sudden crisis of conscience: had I done the same thing in starting a Sistema-inspired classical music program within a Boston public school? Given the principal’s enthusiasm, and the fact that at the time there was no music or visual arts programming, I eagerly launched the program without questioning what was best for the community. Was the money we were raising for the orchestra program being put to its best use at this school?

For Young Music Organizations, Community Work Matters More

07-06-2021

The first concert that Make Music NOLA ever played was the opening of a community garden. Back then, the organization was still named the Youth Orchestra of the Lower 9th Ward—a group of young musicians with less than a year on their instruments, putting on an unpolished performance of “Saints Go Marching In” for the community. The experience was critical for these students; performing alongside Irma Thomas, the Soul Queen of New Orleans, they felt a lasting current of community support and encouragement. Most of those students continued to play their instruments for years, and many went on to learn a brass instrument and join the marching band at Martin Luther King Elementary.

Treasures within a UNESCO Report

06-02-2021

I earned my M.A. degree in educational policy studies from the Institute of Education, University of London (now University College London) a quarter-century ago. In the same year, a seminal report called Learning: The Treasure Within (the Delors Report) was published by UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization), where I started my United Nations career two years later. This is one of many texts that have made a huge impact on my life; it is always a source of inspiration when it comes to education and learning. Although the Report has been influential among educators, I’ve come to recognize that it is not well known in the sphere of music education, let alone the art and music world in general.

Reflections on Our Shared Lineage

06-01-2021

In October of 2008, sitting alongside Maestro José Antonio Abreu, I experienced a moment of clarity. We were visiting the state of Trujillo in the far-northwest corner of Venezuela, where the state’s six major núcleos had formed a special orchestra to put on a command performance for the Maestro. A group 200 strong, all between 10–25 years old. A breathtaking interpretation of the first movement of Mahler’s First Symphony ensued, the type of concert I had experienced so many times with awe. But then Maestro Abreu addressed the orchestra. He set out his vision for each of their lives, full of contribution, artistry, and joy. At one point he asked, “Who of you wants to be a teacher?” Every hand shot up; every face was shining. My first thought was: “What a beautiful tribute to the community of educators nurturing these young people.” I came away with the profound understanding that teaching was at the core of it all.

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