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El Sistema Finland: Tempo’s 10-year Celebration
Juha Ahvenainen, Conductor Tempo Orchestra / El Sistema Finland
Since 2009, El Sistema Finland‘s Tempo Orchestra has provided and fostered music-making opportunities for children hailing from various backgrounds. It began as a project called “A whole world in the suburb,” and was financed through Finland’s Ministry of the Interior. Our goal was to increase interactions between Finnish and immigrant children and their families within two densely populated immigrant areas, Länsimäki and Koivukylä. These areas are located in the city of Vantaa, which is the most multicultural city in Finland.
Before launching this project in two schools in 2009, our team visited Lisbon’s Orquestra Geracao (Sistema Portugal) and were inspired by their work with immigrant children in the area of Amadora. We explored El Sistema methodology, group teaching, and inspiring attitude. Filled with enthusiasm, we began our work that autumn.
Along with teaching violin, viola, and ensembles, I had opportunities to advance social matters at the same time. My students were from Bangladesh, China, Estonia, Finland, India, Iraq, Japan, Kosovo, Pakistan, Russia, Spain, Turkey, Vietnam, and Thailand. Most children, surprisingly, spoke Finnish! Together, we created an atmosphere for students in which everyone was treated with kindness and respect.
Our successful pilot lasted two years. Following this, Vantaa established Tempo Orchestra as a collaboration between both schools and the Vantaa Music Institute.
In 2012, the El Sistema Finland Association was founded to support and develop Tempo Orchestras throughout Finland, followed by establishing orchestras in two schools (Jakomäki and Vesala ) in Helsinki. This project was in partnership with the El Sistema Finland Association, Education Department, Culture Centre, and Metropolia University of Applied Sciences. The pedagogy students of Metropolia University worked as teachers alongside the teachers of El Sistema Finland. I’m sure this project provided Metropolia’s graduating teachers a unique opportunity to learn more about the diversity of our society, group teaching, and El Sistema.
In 2018, Tempo Orchestra was founded also in the city of Oulu, which is situated 600 km north of Helsinki. In Oulu, the Tempo Orchestra program was funded through a charitable campaign, with a remarkable outcome. Over 60 string instruments were collected and repaired for the children.
In Vantaa, we now work in three schools with 100 students participating in different Tempo orchestras. Students are selected with help from schoolteachers who know more about their backgrounds and need for this kind of activity. The goal is to connect children from various backgrounds, and offer free instruments and instruction.
Most students choose to play string instruments, while winds and percussion are also offered. In 2018, we received a contribution from the Ministry of Education to launch pop and jazz clubs for the Länsimäki middle school students. Vocal, saxophone, and percussion groups gather once a week after school, led by their teachers and those from the music institute.
Weekly programming consists of two after-school orchestra rehearsals and weekly private lessons. These short, 15-minute lessons are beneficial. I can provide individual attention, establish relationships, and allow a space for them to practice with me without distraction.
To keep the content of orchestra practices diverse, we integrate singing, chatting, and playful games into rehearsals. Every student receives their own Tempo Passport, where they can collect stamps for demonstrating positive attributes like paying attention, being present, and acting with kindness. At the end of the season, the students with most stamps get a special award.
Playfulness is one central feature in our work. Along with instrumental playing, we often sing and add choreography and drama elements, like animal figures, on the performance stage. Having fun is an effective and sensible way to motivate children. That is why we try to avoid boredom and find new pedagogical means that inspire them. Click here for an example.
Our repertoire consists of Western classical music melodies, children´s songs, and folk music from different countries. We prepare our shows by making “performance booklets”, which proceed according to script with various themes. Each booklet contains pieces and songs with guidelines, and there are different difficulty levels for beginners and more advanced students.
Each semester we hold concerts in schools, and recently performed for the president of Finland, the ministers of Nordic countries, and throughout Helsinki’s Metropolitan area including Finlandia Hall and Music Centre. Over the years, I have seen how these performances provide students with significant experiences, and build self-esteem and team spirit.
The city of Vantaa will be developing a Tempo organization soon. The goal is to establish new orchestras for numerous schools. Beyond this, the El Sistema Finland Association wishes to start an orchestra consisting of professional and amateur musicians, in order to play together with Tempo orchestras and perform multicultural repertoire.
Sociocultural inspiration is one of the fundamental ideas behind Tempo’s mission. It came into existence after the Second World War in Europe, where there was need to stimulate the democratic atmosphere. It soon gained momentum also in Latin America. El Sistema is a perfect example of it. One of the main goals of sociocultural inspiration is to inspire people to create and enjoy culture and achieve cultural democracy, regardless of their social status. In Tempo orchestra we try to motivate people to make culture together in their own living environment while living their daily lives. For the children, this comes true by playing in Tempo Orchestra at their own school. For their families, we also organize regular Tempo events where they can get to know each other better.
While many things are progressive in Finland concerning human rights and equality, we still have difficult issues, including social exclusion, segregation, racism, and challenges concerning Finland’s latest school curriculum reformation. We need greater communality now more than ever. My dream is that nobody is left alone, and every child embraces a meaningful hobby. What better way to achieve this dream, than offering every child the opportunity to share in orchestral experiences with friends every day.
More information for our program can be found at:
Author: Juha Ahvenainen, Conductor Tempo Orchestra / El Sistema Finland