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

From Musicambia: Lessons from Teaching Music in Prisons

01-05-2022

Teaching music in prisons is about doing the most with the resources you have. And everywhere we teach, we learn something new from our collaborating musicians; in many ways, we learn as much from our experiences as our students do. In the spirit of reflection and new beginnings, I want to share a few of the lessons that have shaped our work over the past seven years.

“We Still Have Much to Learn”: Culturally Responsive Teaching in Elsipogtog First Nation

12-01-2021

When anchoring your children in their ancient Mi’kmaq culture is critical to your future, as it is in Elsipogtog First Nation in eastern New Brunswick (Canada), how do violin or cello lessons fit into their education? This question has been at the forefront for both Sistema New Brunswick and Elsipogtog community leaders for the past five years. Thankfully, through the wisdom and generosity of those community leaders, an answer has begun to emerge.

The Nonprofit Pay Problem and What We Can Do about It

11-03-2021

In the words of Petro Manzo’s article “The Real Salary Scandal” in the Stanford Social Innovation Review, the “psychic income” one receives from feeling good and fulfilled from their nonprofit work doesn’t pay the bills, and can have real consequences for individuals and their families. The concept of a “psychic income” connects to a longstanding narrative that nonprofits workers can’t make too much, for fear that they will profit from charity work. Dan Pallotta has discussed how harmful it is when we adopt the Puritan mindset that paying well somehow undermines our mission. Many funders perpetuate this narrative, too—limiting general operating funding and keeping strict ratios between overhead and direct program expenses. But our passion for our work shouldn’t hinder us from paying our bills.

Scenes from the YOLA National Symposium

11-03-2021

The work of running an El Sistema-inspired program can sometimes feel intensely lonely. But last weekend at the YOLA National Symposium in Los Angeles, this work felt rich with community—with good music, new friends, and shared experiences. The Symposium’s umbrella theme was, simply, “Change,” and participants approached that theme with joy, experimentation, challenge, and connection.

Join the Teaching Artists Training Institute

11-03-2021

At YOLA’s National Symposium in mid-October, a panel of program leaders discussed the question, “What is your single greatest need?” Each one of them responded the same way: “Better training and professional development for our teachers.” This problem challenges programs everywhere, no matter how long they’ve been around.

Welcome to the Beckmen YOLA Center 

10-06-2021

There are so many youth-centered programs, particularly in our Sistema community, that dream of creating a space just for their students. A space to design freely; a space to be a mentor. A space to perform. A space that belongs to, and works for, the community. Unfortunately, for far too many deserving programs and organizations, those dreams are not easily realized. What could it mean for the field if we call on our funders, institutions, and teams to truly commit to the change and advancement we have long sought?

Redefining a Residency: Reflections on Our COVID Year Collaboration

10-05-2021

We decided to start with a small idea: to have one of the musicians in the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra (NJSO) join the advanced piano students in our program for a few Zoom sessions. Our thinking was that it could be almost like a masterclass, with the musician talking to the students about their experiences and coaching them on musical concepts. Our only concern was whether piano students would be able to relate to and make meaningful connections with a string player.

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.

Collaborators in the Key of Change

10-05-2021

Society’s highest goal for children in foster care seems to be keeping them out of trouble. But their social workers ache for more. In our conversations, they were drawn to the idea of offering children a path to rare and significant personal success, including new skills and disciplines that would change their future.

Three Resources from Carnegie Hall

09-15-2021

Carnegie Hall is known for its excellent professional development. If you’re looking for ways to improve and enliven your own teaching, you can explore their Great Music Teaching Framework, with selected videos from the Music Educators Workshops that model the seven foundations of great music teaching. Explore improvisation and movement games, conducting techniques, tips to create more symbiotic learning environment, strategies for approaching tricky texts, and more.

Also, some may be interested in Carnegie Hall’s early-learner rhythmic training videos.

Note that Carnegie Hall has just opened up applications for their 2022 national youth ensembles. Music-for-social-change program leaders in the U.S. should take a close look at NYO2 for their most motivated students. It is a free, life-changing intensive experience for youth ages 14–17, designed particularly for young people from communities underserved by and underrepresented in the classical orchestral field.

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