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From the Editor, January 2019
In the time-honored tradition of pausing on the cusp of a new year to look both forward and back, I’ve been reflecting this week on two questions. How has our Sistema-inspired movement made progress, and what areas are most in need of improvement? Here are my thoughts.
Where have we made progress? 1. Support for our developing programs. In particular, the Presto Grants offered through El Sistema USA have begun to provide funding for a number of programs less than five years old, and Carnegie Hall’s PlayUSA supports experimentation to advance practice.
2 Expanding opportunities for advanced players. These include expansion of the Take A Stand national orchestra to two ensembles instead of one, scholarships for some students to top music camps, and local program initiatives that help students prepare for professional music tracks.
3. Sustained inquiry around the issue of student voice. At Take A Stand, at the El Sistema USA symposium, and in local programs around the country, there has been a collective realization that for Sistema success, there is no element more important than student-led learning, student leadership, and student-created music.
What areas most urgently need improvement?
1. Partnerships with other like-minded organizations. Sistema-inspired programs still tend toward insularity. Important exceptions like the Philadelphia Music Alliance for Youth can serve as our models for aligning and working with other arts education/social engagement programs.
2. Research. Most programs are doing some kind of in-house evaluation of their impact on students, but as yet there’s very little partnering with independent academic or research entities to produce thorough, rigorous results that can impact social, economic and funding policies.
3. Social justice issues. I make this point last, not because it’s least important but because it’s the one I most want you to remember. As a movement, we need to prioritize ongoing constructive discussion about how our field can actively combat issues of social justice and structural racism. We’ve begun this inquiry, bit by bit and here and there; but it’s time to make it front and center.
Happy New Year!