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The Seminario, through a Student’s Eyes

Hannah Christensen, student, Sistema Utah; World Ensemble Ambassador


Last month, I was fortunate enough to participate in El Sistema USA’s Symposium and Seminario, which took place online. The week was full of informative and surprising sessions. Before the week began, I recorded two videos that were later used in the Symposium itself. The first was a video of me discussing how we mentor in my program, Sistema Utah, which was later combined with submissions from other World Ensemble Ambassadors. In the other, I performed “What We Will Be” by Danielle Williams on my violin. I couldn’t wait to hear how it sounded when joined with videos that other participating students had sent in.

My week began with Monday’s “What We Will Be” premiere. This song made such an impact on me that I am still humming it throughout my days. Despite the technical challenges, the video turned out great, leaving me energized and excited for the week ahead.

On Tuesday, I attended the pre-Seminario “getting-to-know-you” fun, which included a conductors’ panel featuring Rafael Payare (California), Dr. Sergio Bernal (Utah), and Dr. Armand Hall (New York). The speakers shared how and why they began their musical journeys, opening my eyes to a new path. Their passion for music left many of us considering our future as conductors. As the discussion wrapped up, the conductors offered final bits of advice. Maestro Payare said, “Never stop believing. Dream big and work hard.” Dr. Bernal told us to “write music to see things from a different perspective.” And Dr. Hall closed the panel with a reminder: “You’re all artists…be willing to change.” These words served as my inspiration for the rest of the week and continue to stick with me, motivating me to practice even when I don’t want to.

The night concluded with a round of music trivia hosted by El Sistema Colorado and Luther Strings. I didn’t want the fun to end; the Zoom room was full of fun and laughter as everyone tried their best to win a bow from Luther Strings. This was a great way to meet other Seminario students and learn things I wouldn’t have learned otherwise.

Wednesday was equal parts exhausting and rewarding, as I attended two Symposium sessions in addition to the first night of the Seminario. By the end of the night, my brain hurt! In the first session—titled “All Change! Exploring European Sistema strategies at a time of challenge”—program leaders from several European countries spoke about what their programs have been doing during the pandemic. Many of them created websites that offered instruction and encouraged student collaboration. I found that the speakers echoed the words of Dr. Hall in saying that change is essential to growth.

The next session, “The Magic of Music Mentoring Around the World,” featured us World Ensemble Ambassadors. It began with a compilation video about our unique mentorship experiences, and then moved to a Q&A period. I hadn’t seen any of the other Ambassador videos yet, so it was exciting to learn more about their respective programs alongside everyone else. I felt a bit nervous before the Q&A started and can only hope that attendees enjoyed hearing from my peers as much as I did.

Wednesday’s Seminario session, led by Accent Pontiac members, saw us break into groups for a creative project. First we talked about what was on our minds before creating a picture that we felt represented our discussion. Groups then shared their amazing creations with everyone else. Afterward, we had fun with members of the Traveling Through Time String Quartet, who seemed to have a lot of energy. This resonated with me as an energetic person. The Quartet members gave us good advice: never give up on music, and take the compliments people give you on your performances. Several students referenced these ideas afterward; it can be so frustrating when you can’t seem to get a passage right, so that really stood out for us.

After an illuminating College Fair Discussion on Thursday, we had fun creating our own melodies with the Collective Conservatory. We also heard from the members of WindSync, many of whom play multiple instruments. By the time they wrapped up, I was already thinking about what instrument I want to learn next.

Our final Seminario session consisted of some musical fun with OrchKids and a discussion with musicians from the Venezuelan Brass Ensemble. We started by creating our songs using a prerecorded track that they shared with us. Everyone shared their ideas, bringing vibrancy and life to the session before breaking into groups and creating a song using a section from “What We Will Be.” It was nice to see everything come full circle, and although I may not have understood what they were saying at the time, I loved meeting members of the Venezuelan Brass Ensemble. It’s clear that their passion for music runs as deep as my own.

So what are my biggest takeaways from this wonderful week? Well, I learned how important change is when it comes to growth, to hang in there, and never to give up on music. I now know that I should always take a compliment, that everything I do impacts the world in some way, and that I should always believe in myself, dream big, and work hard.

For more information on Sistema Utah, visit their website.


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