Ten Years

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

Ten Years

Rodrigo Guerrero, Program Director, Boston BEAM at New England Conservatory of Music; former Deputy Director of International Affairs, Fundación Musical Simón Bolívar

Rodrigo Guerrero.

Over the last several months, I’ve noticed an interesting pattern in my Facebook feed: a surprisingly high number of music for social impact programs have been posting announcements of their ten-year anniversaries. Often, these are posted by folx I’ve met over my many years of engagement with Venezuela’s El Sistema orchestras; these bonds of mission and kinship have flourished in the digital space, as programs and teaching artists share their successes and achievements as well as their challenges and innovative means of surmounting them. Facebook is certainly not an elegant enough medium to do justice to Maestro Abreu’s vision for a worldwide network of programs, but there is a camaraderie and shared mission that spills over from post to post—often from people I’ve never met in person.

Ten years is a powerful time span for many things, from children to marriages, partnerships to memoirs; the roundness of a decade has powerful meanings. In our field, it tends to signify the completion of two very important cycles. First, it represents our first generation of students (programs often start working with students when they are 7–9 years of age, meaning that many of those initial students are now graduating from high school). Second (especially notable to me, an admitted arts admin geek), it tends to mean that organizations have braved several funding breakthroughs, starting with the fearsome three-year plan usually required for grant applications.

It’s interesting to note, in fact, how few programs have shuttered during those ten years. A decade of operations means healthy, stable, and sustained activities; it means strong leadership and growth; it means the mission and the vision are still valid and the ideals hold true.

Readers, I invite you to wonder with me: what was happening in 2012 to spark such growth? Or perhaps the better question would be: what was happening in the five or so years preceding 2012 that would motivate people across the Americas and the world to aspire to create these programs?

One vital marker, surely, was the 2007 BBC Proms concert at London’s Royal Albert Hall, the first time the Simón Bolívar Youth Orchestra of Venezuela, playing Shostakovich 10, Marquez’s Danzon #2, and Bernstein’s West Side Story dances, exploded onto the international scene—the first of many times we would see stylishly dressed audience members reaching across each other to catch the players’ colorful jackets as they were tossed from the stage between encores.

Another huge marker was Maestro Abreu’s rousing speech upon winning the TED prize in 2009—perhaps the first instance of a televised address by a world-famous Latin American musical figure that celebrated not earth-shaking large orchestras playing warhorse repertoire, and not oft-neglected classical music from Latin American masters, but the power of ensemble-based music education to create true social impact. I know for a fact that this speech was watched and shared thousands upon thousands of times by educators, funders, and families.

Also in 2009: Gustavo Dudamel took the reins of the Los Angeles Philharmonic—and, by the way, conducted the Hollywood Bowl debut of the very small, very young Youth Orchestra of Los Angeles he had helped inaugurate the year before. During that same month, across the continent at New England Conservatory in Boston, the Abreu Fellowship was launching the first of its five yearlong cohorts.

And it’s no accident that The Ensemble is also celebrating a decade of publication. This site has grown up alongside the global movement for social impact through music and has been profoundly shaped by the hundreds of programs it has reported on. Along with Tricia Tunstall’s book Changing Lives: Gustavo Dudamel, El Sistema, and the Transformative Power of Music (also published in 2012), The Ensemble has explored the power of narrative, mutual inquiry, and connection to help grow a social and artistic movement.

What can we learn from this look-back? Perhaps these and many other factors inspired the founding of your program. Or perhaps you or your program’s founder took inspiration from more recent developments. Either way, it’s worth asking which factors led you and your colleagues to say, “I want to do this. I want to try to build a better world through youth music education.”

I find great joy in seeing how this inspiration has led to so many great programs that serve their communities with their own distinct identity and methodology while staying connected to that collective moment of epiphany a decade ago. Most of all, I am struck by the hopefulness of that time—the sense of possibility around this work, the idea that through beauty and dedication, we could create viable pathways for youth and communities to grow and dream together. Maybe that hope feels quaint now, 10–15 years later. But if that’s true, so is this: that hope has led many of us to a decade of discovery we never dreamed was possible. Who knows what it might do with another decade.


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