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Take A Stand 2018
Ana de Souza, Teaching Artist, Miami Music Project (and MMP alumna)
I had the privilege last month of attending the L.A. Phil’s 2018 Take a Stand Festival, Symposium, and Teaching Intensive. The Festival brought together students aged 12-18 from programs directly inspired by El Sistema or similarly dedicated to social change and youth development through instrumental music education. About 140 students, from 36 programs in 19 states plus Puerto Rico, participated in this ten-day festival, which began at Soka University in Orange County and finished in Los Angeles with performances in Walt Disney Concert Hall. The students were grouped into two ensembles: the Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Maestros Gustavo Dudamel and Michael Morgan, and the Junior String Ensemble, conducted by Maestros Jeffrey Grogan and Soo Han.
The Symposium was a two-day event, July 13-14, focused on bringing together leaders and teachers dedicated to social impact and youth development. For the first time, there was also a three-day Teaching Intensive running parallel to the symposium, with activities and conversations aimed specifically for practicing music teachers and teaching artists. There were 150 attendees at the symposium, of whom 80 were also involved in the Teaching Intensive.
The theme of this year’s symposium was “student voice.” Sessions and speeches were focused on how to empower and cultivate student ownership in El Sistema-inspired programs; the title of one keynote speech, by Justin Laing, was “Will the Liberatory Orchestral Music Program Please Stand Up?” Appropriately, many of the presenters were students. YOLA rising senior Liliana Morales gave a keynote speech, as did rising Harvard freshman and Mariachi Mestizo alumna Xóchitl Morales. Xóchitl – a published poet, music teacher, and mariachi musician – talked about how music has been key to her becoming the person she is today; as a Hispanic woman, I found her message especially inspiring.
Students were also co-presenters in many of the sessions. MyCincinnati students, along with program director Eddy Kwon, shared with us their extensive specialized programming for teens, geared to increasing student leadership and power within the program. In another session, students of Orchkids from Baltimore played for us and talked about the process of collaborative composition, in which students use a group process to create their own compositions.
In fact, the entire Teaching Intensive was anchored in a student-centric process that had begun before we arrived. During a Festival rehearsal day, a number of students were asked for their perspectives on what makes their programs so important to them. They came up with six program “impact” statements, which were relayed to us and drove many of our discussions and conversations about how to improve our practice. The statements varied from highly general, such as “Music can change and save me,” to more specific, for example, “Music can help me achieve my dreams.”
Thus the Teacher Intensive was no ordinary professional development session, in which people seek answers to specific challenges at their programs. Instead, we were asked to analyze the student quotes and create ways forward, to help support their aspirations. For example, my group’s solution to the quote “Music can help me achieve my dreams” was to create student-led chamber groups so they can learn how to work as a team, lead, and strive for excellence – which are appropriate qualities to help realize a dream of any kind. On our last day, we all met with a panel of students, presented our conclusions to them, and asked for their feedback.
For me, this was perhaps the most valuable part of the Take A Stand Symposium: we learned how to problem-solve with little or no background information; discuss and debate our solutions; and, most importantly, be patient and trust the process. As teachers, we often forget that the process of building toward an outcome, in a way that authentically prioritizes student voice and student empowerment, is more important that the outcome itself.
It was wonderful to have so much interaction with the students participating in the Festival orchestras; it felt great to see their happiness bursting out of them. When I asked Diego Dominguez, from the Miami Music Project, about his thoughts on the Festival, he said: “The experience was outstanding, from the way they treated us almost like a professional orchestra, to getting to meet new people who enjoy and appreciate music just as much as I do. TAS was 10 out of 10!”