Editorial: January 2020

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

Editorial: January 2020

Karen Zorn, President, Longy School of Music of Bard College, Cambridge, MA


At the start of every New Year, I look for inspiration, and this week I found it. “It (Still) Takes a Village,” Krystle Ford’s article also in this issue, reports on the work of the Indianapolis Symphony’s Metropolitan Youth Orchestra, which seeks to engage multiple generations of family members in its El Sistema work.

Her account reminded me of my initial introduction to El Sistema and its leaders. While my new Venezuelan colleagues were excited about the possibilities of El Sistema in North America, they also had a concern: would our culture take to an idea that valued ensembles over soloists and that worked to ensure a place for everyone rather than elevating the highest achievers?

I must confess, I shared their concern. I can’t speak for Canadians, but I know that Americans aren’t known for their collectivism. The American Dream is about an individual getting ahead rather than a supportive community bringing everyone along. Sometimes it seems we even measure success by how many people we’ve left behind. I wasn’t sure whether El Sistema would translate to such a culture.

In the years since I first heard those questions voiced, I’ve come to strongly believe that, yes, North America is in fact fertile ground for El Sistema to take root and grow. During my time at Longy, since 2007, I’ve come to know a new generation of musicians who are as dedicated to social engagement as they are to musical excellence. I’ve visited núcleos in the United States where the ensemble philosophy is already tangibly transforming lives and changing communities. I’ve experienced so many incredibly dedicated individuals and organizations who are successfully translating the tenets of this Venezuelan institution into North American communities and are beginning to find ways to connect and support each other in this work.

My hope for 2020 is that though we are all geographically far-flung and continually in the trenches, we can renew our collective inspiration to strengthen these relationships and connections—that we continue to build the nationwide village we need to raise and nurture our emerging new generation of citizen artists.

Happy New Year!


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