Exploring Partnerships: Working Together to Enhance Community Engagement

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Exploring Partnerships: Working Together to Enhance Community Engagement

Rebecca Shasberger, Founder, Director, and cellist of Renovare Music; Global Leaders Program alumna


As the one-year mark of the COVID-19 pandemic approaches, many musicians continue to be isolated from their communities. Lockdowns, travel bans, and limits on in-person gatherings all pose challenges to creating meaningful interactions through music. Yet the importance of engaging with our communities through music has never been more apparent.

This article explores three innovative ideas for broadening and deepening community engagement through the development of new partnerships. While certain aspects are designed to be executed in a post-pandemic world, a large portion of each idea could be planned and/or implemented amidst existing restrictions, and all three ideas employ the increased technological savvy that many music organizations have gained over the past year.

These ideas come from members of the Global Leaders Program (GLP) 2021 cohort, and were designed with specific organizations in mind. None of these projects have been implemented, nor do the organizations in view necessarily intend to implement these ideas. Rather, the projects are ambitious imaginings of how various sorts of partnerships can increase community engagement.

One project idea imagines a new partnership between Sister Cities Girlchoir (SCG) and SINEM Alajuela. SCG is an El Sistema-inspired choral program operating in Philadelphia, Camden, and Baltimore that aims to “empower girls to occupy their unique advantage in transforming our world.” One way they empower girls is by letting them make decisions about their experiences in choir, including what music they sing and where they perform. The girls (and SCG leadership) dream of touring internationally one day, and Costa Rica has been identified as a specific destination of interest. Accordingly, the GLP cohort group imagined a way to begin a partnership with SINEM, a choral and orchestral youth program in Costa Rica, that could someday grow into an in-person exchange in the form of an international tour.

The first step in building this partnership is the production of “Somos Nosotros/This is Us,” an interactive concert that explores themes of identity across cultures. SCG and SINEM will together offer a unique live-streamed and in-person experience, with each group taking turns performing pieces live for a local audience and then watching the other group do the same over video. With each set of pieces, one from SCG and then one from SINEM, both audiences are invited to respond to questions and engage in activities to reflect on their identity from a personal to a global level, noting both their unique and their shared values across cultures.

To help build relationships and foster cultural exchange, students from both programs will work together through a series of video calls to write an original composition (with assistance from staff and music arrangers, as needed). During the performance of “Somos Nosotros/This is Us,” one group will perform their part of the piece live alongside a recording made in advance by the other group, thus allowing them to create “together” from a distance.

The idea of underscoring cross-cultural throughlines was explored in depth by a second GLP cohort group. In this instance, the group imagined the creation of a new orchestral “encore” piece and set of video teaching resources for Music for Peace (MFP), an El Sistema program based in Turkey. A number of MFP’s students are from the Roma community, which led the GLP group to draw a connection to the Roma community in Spain. They realized that traditional Turkish music shares similarities with flamenco music, and thus imagined the creation of a truly unique encore piece that celebrates both the unique attributes and the shared characteristics of these musical styles. Not only will this composition come to exist with help from musicians who represent each musical tradition, but the musicians will also craft a series of instructional videos to prepare students for the performance. These videos will be of varying difficulties for students with more and less experience, covering topics like rhythm, movement, tonality, and improvisation. Preparatory videos of this sort could be beneficial to students in many programs, both during and after the pandemic. Used in combination with the performance of an exciting encore premiere, these resources allow students and audience members alike to connect in new ways, benefiting from new partnerships across musical genres.

Whether working across cultures and languages or within them, music is always capable of communicating meaning and emotion without words. This unique and beautiful quality is the route the third GLP cohort group chose to explore in imagining “The Sound of Feelings: Teaching from the Heart,” a project for Sistema New Brunswick (SNB). In this project, the SNB students are guided through a series of lesson planning concepts and reflection questions, both personal and musical, to better understand how emotion can be shared through music. Having done this, the students will then be challenged to teach the students of the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra’s Music for Life (M4L) youth orchestra. Through a series of interactions over Zoom, students from both programs consider ways that music helps communicate identity and emotion, further exploring their findings through color-mapping and composition activities. This imagined collaboration between SNB and M4L would allow students from both programs to grow in their creativity, communication, and musical understanding.

It is worth noting that all three of these imagined projects seek out common ground between partnering groups, whether in the form of shared values, cultural expressions, or emotions. All three projects also include reflection as a key component of their design. While the details vary—with reflection done individually or in groups, through writing or sharing aloud, and in preparation for, during, or after the culminating concert—each project design demonstrates the value of reflection in boosting community engagement. As we continue to navigate the COVID-19 pandemic and plan for the future, may we continue to dream creatively of how our community engagement practices can be enhanced through new partnerships.

To learn more about Renovare Music, visit their website.


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