From the Editor

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

From the Editor

Tricia Tunstall


Every gathering of music educators gets amped up when, at long last, the kids play. The ESUSA symposium last weekend was no exception. After two days of talks and workshops, we gathered in a concert hall to hear actual students – from Durham’s Kidznotes, Baltimore’s OrchKids, and Chicago’s CHIMOP – actually make music.

The concert began with a series of chamber groups that displayed the kids’ musical and expressive skills in a variety of styles. And then something different began: a group composition they had all created together in the Creative Composition workshop, run by Dan Trahey, Calida Jones and Joe Hamm, with help from many TAs.

Group composition! The idea is hugely appealing to most Sistema teachers because it fuses two of our most core values, ensemble and creativity. But most of us don’t have a clue how it can be successfully accomplished. Before the students performed, Dan told us, “We are all about AND, not OR. Classical AND popular. Orchestra AND composing.” He described the creative process: “We began by asking, ‘What’s on your minds?’ And some kids mentioned their fears about DACA. So – D-A-C-A. We had a start. Then we agreed on the theme ‘Now is the time.’ And we asked, the time for what? Many kids contributed words and images. All of that – images, rhythms, melodic shapes – went into the composition.”

Thanks to skill and trust on the teachers’ part and spirited inventiveness on the students’ part, the result was music. Those four seminal notes make for haunting minor-key motives, and the students clearly felt a musical as well as a real-life urgency. There were episodes of robust body percussion, fragments of solo song, coloristic textures; there was a 7-beat melody stretched across 8 beats.

Perhaps most striking was the fact that all the students, from the smallest beginners to the most accomplished teenagers, seemed secure both in their specific roles and in their value to the whole ensemble. Even a tiny bystander lifted onto the stage was given a precise musical job and gently mentored throughout. There was a sense that each student felt both ownership and fellowship.

Ownership AND fellowship. As the U.S. Sistema movement heads into our second decade, let’s make “AND” our watchword.


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