An American in Gothenburg

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An American in Gothenburg

Emily Kubitskey, Teaching Artist/Conductor


Often, when we think about the word ‘culture,’ we think about the qualities of a communityits shared music, food, or religion. However, the word is derived from the Latin word ‘colere,’ which means to tend or cultivate; so when we take a more active perspective, we can define culture as ‘the medium for growth.’

Every year for the last five years, the Gothenburg Symphony, with the city of Gothenburg, creates Side by Side by El Sistema Sweden, a summer solstice festival for thousands of students and teachers to come together and create a culture of musical community. This year, students from other countries in Europe and Latin America were welcomed as well.

A team of faculty from around the world has been fortunate enough to be asked back year after year. (My position is to rehearse and conduct the various wind ensembles.) While the specific product of this work is a series of final concerts put on by the students and the Gothenburg Symphony, one of the most magical things that happens throughout the week is the behind-the-scenes growth of the team of teachers, chaperones, and volunteers.

The festival is run by the GSO Education Director, Petra Kloo Vik, Project Manager Johan Andersson, and Artistic Advisor Ron Davis Alvarez. While they make sure the focus of the festival stays constantly on the children, they also have a profound influence on the faculty and teaching artists, simply through leading by example. For instance, they never hesitate to do whatever needs doing at the moment; they simply pitch in and do it. The entire faculty follows suit, stepping forward to contribute in any way neededbecause we see that happening quietly at the top. Our leaders are also able to give direction while still providing space and trust for each staff member to meet the collective goals in our own style. This leadership style is passed all the way down to the thousands of students. Every member of the faculty, and every student, contributes to the creation of a culture of inspiration, trust, and growth that is palpable to all members of the festival.

The week at Side by Side in June was a wonderful reminder that when we change our perspective on culture from a fixed mindset of qualities to one that is more about growth and development of a group of people, we can really create and see change within communities.


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