North America

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

Jazzing Up Sistema Relevance


To many classically trained musicians, the El Sistema program model of learning in group classes and ensembles is very different from how we learned. However, the development of technique and discipline, and the understanding of music that comes with classical training, are just as important for playing in other genres. Classical training provides a foundation that can be used for learning any style of music. The notes, rhythms, and instrumental techniques are the same in classical music as they are in jazz. Professional brass bands may play the same notes and rhythms to Liza Jane as our students would, but in a different key, with open sections for improvisation and with a different sound.

Engaging Family


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Interning Into Leadership


At the age of ten, I was chosen to be part of Tuned In, an El Sistema program at the Peabody Institute in Baltimore. During my eight years there, Dan Trahey, the director, gave the students opportunities to intern with other programs. As a middle school student, I was able to choose between going to band camp and interning at the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra Orchkids program. I loved Orchkids in particular, so I chose that program, and started my first summer internship there in eighth grade. Orchkids was also an El Sistema program, so it felt like home. The students were like me; we faced the same problems and challenges, we had the same interests, and we all just wanted to play music. I interned at Orchkids every summer through high school, and I learned so much not only about music but also about administration, skills I could use in the real world.

From the Editors


On March 24th, as I worked on putting this issue together, I listened to a live stream of the rally in Washington, D.C. I heard young person after young person speaking truth to power about their lived experiences of gun violence. And another voice was suddenly present in my head, more seasoned but still resonating with the urgent aspiration of the young people’s voices. “Put a violin in the hands of a child,” said that voice, “and the child will not pick up a gun.”

Student Empowerment in Music Learning


Students as leaders. Increasingly, teaching artists in U.S. Sistema-inspired programs have been thinking about this important idea.

In February, a group of music teaching artists and program directors came together for a PlayUSA workshop on “Empowering Students to Lead.” PlayUSA is an initiative of Carnegie Hall’s Weill Music Institute that supports quality instrumental instruction reaching young musicians in local communities across the country. The workshop brought together faculty from 13 PlayUSA grantee organizations, including Sistema programs and other instrumental music education organizations, to focus on student agency in musical learning.

Setting the Stage for Sistema


Music for the Very Young (MVY), Trenton Music Makers’ early-childhood music and movement program, was created in 2000. Our goal was to serve Trenton’s pre-K children, teachers and families, not only by creating joyful and interesting early musical experiences for the children, but also by weaving music and movement into the fabric of the preschool day, and engaging the children’s families in their music learning. We worked closely with the school district and with Music Together, creators of the music resources used in MVY, to ensure we addressed district goals with high-quality materials. Weekly classes led by early childhood music specialists, PD workshops for classroom teachers, family music parties – all these create an immersive music-making opportunity that is very much aligned with Sistema practice.

From the Editor


Many of us know by heart this quote from José Antonio Abreu’s televised TED talk in 2009: “Orchestra and chorus are much more than artistic structures; they are schools of social life, because to play and sing together means to intimately coexist toward perfection and excellence.”

Stronger Together: The Longy Sistema Side By Side


At a Celtics game in Boston’s TD Garden this past January, the national anthem was played by an ensemble making their arena debut: the Longy Sistema Side By Side Orchestra, made up of graduate students at the Longy Conservatory and students from El Sistema-inspired programs in the Boston area and in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. For the young Sistema players, it was an unforgettable moment. For Longy, it was a milestone in its mission to support connections between music education and social justice.

Get Comfortable……Being Uncomfortable


What a great opportunity it was to be together with over 100 leaders, teachers, students, and curious individuals this past weekend at the El Sistema USA first-ever symposium. You could feel the excitement, energy, and buzz around Duke University as we took over the Nelson Music Room with live performances, slideshows, and plenary presentations. I believe some of our plenaries really gave space for people to think, reflect, and then hopefully plan a course of action.


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