August 2021

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

Growing Seeds in Tetuán


Turina Youth Orchestra of Acción por la Música Foundation is a clear example of how values of the human spirit can be developed through music. It is here that, through orchestral rehearsals, resilience, trust, social justice, kindness, beauty, and compassion grow.

Empathetic Music Programming
Or: How I Learned to Stop Teaching Like an Englishman


I’m often asked about the Mbale Schools Band. It’s easy to see why: we are a celebrated and widely visible British-style brass band founded in Uganda, a country with no tradition of or overwhelming interest in such an ensemble. But while ours is a success story, it is also one of listening and deep empathy—a parable for the virtue of placing yourself in your students’ shoes. Without their wisdom, it’s likely that we would not have made it past year three.

The Life of Jorge Peña Hen, Part I: A Giant of Our Cultural Heritage


Winter 2012, La Serena, Chile: an overcast but mild day, with a soft, chilly ocean breeze from the Pacific Ocean’s Humboldt Current. I was with Victor Hugo, a high school friend of mine who had put his trumpet aside to study law and journalism at the university before becoming the editor of a local newspaper. We were both accompanying Don Juan Orrego Salas, a 93-year-old gentleman who was visiting our city to pay a posthumous tribute to a dear friend of his, to whom he had never gotten to say goodbye in person. We bought a bouquet of flowers and entered the front gate of the cemetery without an exact knowledge of where we were going—which was not a problem, since everyone we passed knew the precise location of the memorial to Jorge Peña Hen.

Using Music Learning to Help Our Young People Rebuild Affective Ties


The pandemic has not been just a biological or epidemiological problem. It has also created enormous disruptions in our social and affective lives. Especially in the spaces of education and social interaction, it has inhibited all the imperceptible links that unite us and that allow us to interact socially. For our children and youth, this has produced reluctance, lack of interest and enthusiasm, and, in some cases, depression. A year of isolation changes people—especially young people—and their perspectives on what is important in life.

Floods of Fire: An Evolving Artist-Led Community Building Project


What is the role and purpose of the orchestra in the 21st century? As society, culture, and funding models change, how audiences engage with live music also continues to shift, which has led to an “industry-wide existential soul-searching.” Some argue that the traditional orchestral model is risk-averse and outdated, and that orchestras could better address some of these issues by “creating a new canon” and “better connecting with the world.”

With orchestras around the world seeking new ways to work, engage, and connect with communities, I’d like to share with you a project that I’m involved in, where an orchestra and its community are collaborating in deep and meaningful ways to tell their unique stories.

World Ensemble Day at SEYO


Twenty-something short videos in an online gallery. They aren’t the finalists for a film festival “short film” competition, or a set of algorithm-selected favorites. They are us, the best of us—short films about innovative solutions that music for social change programs around the world submitted for World Ensemble Day workshops at SEYO (Sistema Europe Youth Orchestra) Summerfest 2021. World Ensemble Day celebrated the proud history and healthy future of innovation to address the challenges and fulfill the high goals of our programs—a fitting presentation for a news hub that exists to connect our field around all kinds of aspirational ideas.

The Bands Will Sound Again: Preserving NOLA’s Marching Band Tradition at The Roots of Music


Silence does not belong in New Orleans. Here, any excuse for a celebration is met with a full-blown, over-the-top extravaganza. Noise is welcomed, and our best noise-producers—musicians—play a crucial role in everyday life. Of course, one type of ensemble represents New Orleans better than any other: the marching band. In New Orleans, a marching band is a magnet; it brings people together and shares with them a piece of the region’s soul. But in 2020, the silent spread of the coronavirus left New Orleanians without this deep tradition. It left New Orleans without its noise.

Finding a New Way Forward: Examining the Sustainability of Labor Practices in El Sistema


According to the Labor Department, a record 4 million people quit their jobs in April alone (“As the Pandemic Recedes, Millions of Workers are Saying ‘I Quit,’” NPR). This resignation seems especially spurred by a great shift in priorities due to pandemic-related situations (fears of unsafe workplaces, decreased pay or furloughs, layoffs, etc.), but it also seems that in this “once-in-a-lifetime” moment, many people have taken stock of their lives and their jobs and simply said, “Enough.”

After six years of full-time work in the El Sistema field, I too followed this line of thinking. Like the millions of Americans who put in their notice in 2021, I decided to leave.

Finding My Voice through Leadership


The Institute of Music for Children is a community arts organization serving students in elementary through high school. The Institute offers beginner- and advanced-level classes in guitar, piano, drawing/painting, filmmaking, singing, dancing, and more. All year long (including summers!), students are exposed to different art forms as they develop new personal interests—meeting new friends, seeing old ones, and socializing through the art and enrichment classes offered here. It is more than a creative hub; it provides young people with a caring and welcoming family.

Caption TK

Nowhere is this more apparent than in the Institute’s Youth Leader Program. None of the summer camps I ever attended had anything like it—a program essentially designed to help us grow up.


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