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


Tricia Tunstall


This issue focuses on engagement –of students, parents, and families. In our lead article, leaders of Carnegie Hall’s PlayUSA initiative describe how their grantee organizations this year are experimenting with many engagement-fostering activities. In the personal column, a parent of two students in a U.S. Sistema program describes how the life of her family has been changed by her daughters’ engagement with the program.

Of course, the strongest engagement tool of all in Sistema programs is the music itself. From the beginning of human time, music has been a key motivator to involvement—one of the simplest, most primal ways to get people to engage together in non-musical activities like working, playing, or celebrating.

A lot of creative thought in the U.S. Sistema field is currently being devoted to helping students increase musical engagement by finding their own musical voices, learning to improvise and compose by themselves and with others. It’s an essential inquiry; there’s no pursuit more engaging than developing and claiming one’s own expressive voice. At the same time, we need to help students to engage more fully with music written by others. And the right repertoire, played with combustible energy, will also be highly engaging for their family members in the audience.

Juan Felipe Molano, conductor of YOLA and former artistic director of Batuta, the Colombian Sistema, once told us that in order to really engage audiences, programs must include the following four things in every concert:

  • a piece that knocks people’s socks off. (This usually means a musically complex piece, preferably loud and definitely fast.)
  • a piece that creates a surge of emotion in people. (Sadness, happiness, transcendence…often, tears are involved.)
  • a piece that makes people feel patriotic. (This is not necessarily about national patriotism; it’s more about a feeling of pride in belonging to a shared place, whether that place is a neighborhood, a city, a state—or a program.
  • a piece that makes them dance. (Always best if the players are dancing too.)

Wishing you all highly engaged spring concerts –lots of socks off, tears flowing, hearts touched. Lots of dancing!


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