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El Sistema – social change through music making: Lori Nemoy at TEDxMcMasterU

El Sistema - social change through music making: Lori Nemoy at TEDxMcMasterU

growing up I always loved music I loved hearing it singing it dancing to it but my real music career began when I was about six years old and I started to take piano lessons and I still continued to play today and when I got to high school I signed up for the vocal music program and I joined my school choir to fulfill my grade nine arts credit and I'll never forget my first choir rehearsal I'm pretty sure we were just singing o Canada but let me tell you it was phenomenal I remember walking into the auditorium seeing all of my classmates milling about my teacher frantically trying to get the attention of the group and after a four beat counting and a deep breath all 100 rowdy students landed together on this magnificent four-part chord singing on the vowel oh and it was probably just a standard F major chord but I still got chills we were all singing together different notes moving in harmony to create this rich full sound and I had this profound sense that I was part of a greater unit from that point forward and through singing and other choirs I became the music nerd that I am today singing in a choir instill the deep passion for music in me and I could be cliche and say that I can't imagine my life today without music but in reality I can't imagine my life without the sense of community and belonging that I feel when making and sharing music with a group of people without that magical energy that happens when singers lock into the same head space and time to create something that's truly beautiful and that's really what I want to talk to you about today the social power of music and more specifically the ability for music education to cause real social change and I'm gonna start by taking you to Venezuela where there exists a program called el sistema el sistema is a national not-for-profit music education program where children as young as three years old come to a center five six sometimes seven days a week and receive free music lessons but what might surprise you about this program is that it's funded by the Venezuelan government as a social program arts program and just to clarify what I mean by social program usually when we're talking about social programs we talk about gang intervention programs or drug intervention programs El Sistema aims to serve the same purpose but through the function of music education the program was founded 38 years ago in Caracas which is one of the most violent cities in the world Venezuela as a whole with a population size of almost 30 million has a homicide rate of close to 20,000 people each year and it also exhibits severe socio-economic disparity according to the el sistema funding proposal from 2006 because low income families tend to have more children over 70% estimated of Venezuelan children under the age of 15 are living we're living in what were designated as poor households or Barrios as you can see pictured here slums and these homes may not have had may not have any running water or electricity and the entire family could be living in just two or three rooms the school dropout rate is also over 20% and many children become involved in gangs and other criminal activities that might that fuel a sort of destructive cycle that's really difficult to break out of in 1975 a man by the name of maestro Jose Antonio Abreu wanted to give young musicians the opportunity to play in or in an orchestra so he started a Youth Orchestra in Caracas for anyone who wanted to play and as his orchestra began to grow and gain some international recognition Abreu applied to the Venezuelan government for some funding in order to support the continuation of his orchestra and as I mentioned earlier Abreu didn't apply through social funding but through our through arts funding but through social funding and that's because a brave relieved that arts education catered to an elite class and that all students in the country all children in the country should have access to music education Abreu declared that his orchestra did much more than just teach music and that giving kids the opportunity to play in an orchestra would take them off the streets as they work toward creating something of beauty together rather than something destructive he said that if you put a violin in the hands of a child that child will not pick up a gotten funding was granted and soon youth orchestras began sprouting up all around the country Abreu called these musical centers nucleus and these nucleus are connected and funded today through the national network of youth and children's orchestras of Venezuela or Festa Eva's visits Spanish acronym and hence el sistema or the system was born to begin what a Brea referred to as the nationwide fight against poverty today Festo Eve supports 180 nucleus and over 300 youth orchestras and choirs 350,000 children participate in El Sistema and the program has seen over 2 million pass through since its beginnings the program is offered to any child in the country regardless of socioeconomic status academic ability or previous music experience and 60% of the children who participate in the program actually hailed from Venezuela's poorest communities the program is offered completely free of charge based on the promise that students attend the 17 hours of instruction that's given each week and that's 17 hours as the sum of every day after school that a child could be engaging in some other sort of damaging activity so the frequency at which these kids rehearse is fairly intense but having fun is at the heart of the learning process and that's really what keeps kids wanting to stay in the system so by now you're probably thinking or at least I hope you're thinking that this is a really beautiful and inspiring idea but you're probably also wondering how does having 350,000 happy musical children really count as social transformation can we really consider this a social program so I'll give you some facts statistics show us that compared to students who are not part of the system el sistema students have lower dropout rates higher class performance fewer behavior higher academic performance fewer behavioral problems higher youth employment and most notably higher community involvement and all of these factors combined actually return almost twice the amount of money that's invested in the program back into the country so this is some evidence of some real tangible social in Hach but this social impact actually stems from some fairly intangible means one of the defining features of the program is its new teaching method all instruction is given through group lessons and the focus is on building an orchestral ensemble rather than developing solo skills there may be some group sectionals or one-on-one interaction with the teacher just to check in on a student but the real focus is to make music as a group the groups are of mixed age and is a heavy emphasis on leadership and peer mentorship as students develop their skills they teach one another with this philosophy that even if you know nothing but a B and C you have the power to teach a B and C to others and you yourself will learn by teaching this interaction builds a stronger sense of community and Boop's community and Trust sorry this interaction builds a stronger sense of community and Trust and minimises feelings of inhibition or competition creating a safe environment for students to be themselves and make mistakes students begin to realize that they are extremely significant as individuals contributing to the success of the group and this on the one hand inspires teamwork and cooperation but it also inspires a stronger sense of self-worth teachers are constantly looking for for performance opportunities in order to give their students something to work toward with this added pressure and knowledge knowing that students are responsible for one another having this constant performance goal instills discipline intial in the students and what's more as students perform for their families and their community members and they take pride in what they're doing and their parents are in turn proud of the children and then this way the benefits of the program begin to ripple out into the greater community so having older students mentor the younger having alumni return as teachers by watching other youth orchestras and professional orchestras play this all shows children in the system that they too have the potential to be just as great and children feel empowered that they can do anything that they work toward in their life some students do go on to become professional musicians and some have even achieved the status of world-class you might recognize this man because of his curly hair do this is Gustavo Dudamel and he's the young vivacious conductor of the Los Angeles Philharmonic and he's also a product of the system but whether or not students in the system choose to pursue music professionally all of the intangible benefits of the el sistema program give kids opportunity and this opportunity arises from what the hell they have developed personally and what they have been able to do in the program and that to me is what is most beautiful and inspiring about this program so I think it was 2008 I think I was in grade 11 um but I was watching 60 minutes with my parents as we tend to do on Sunday night and I saw for the first time the Samoan Boulevard National Youth Orchestra and this is sort of the highest tier Youth Orchestra in Venezuela in that's part of the sistema and they were playing Mambo from the West Side Story suite and they were playing with a vibrancy and a passion that I'd never really seen or heard before but still with the precision and caliber of a world-class Orchestra and what really stood out for me aside from the music itself were their exhibit phases and these sort of high-energy dance moves and flourishes that they do with their instruments as you can see pictured here their energy is contagious and it's almost impossible not to fall in love with this Orchestra especially after you hear their story but I'm not the only person who's been inspired by this idea 25 countries around the world have replicated the el sistema model in their own communities here in Canada we have at least nine programs that explicitly link themselves with the el sistema model and there are certainly more development more developing I should mention sistema Saskatoon which is also our newest program here in Canada and they're not on the list today so this is really exciting and maybe I was living under a rock but more likely I was stuck in my Toronto bubble because that's where I'm from but I didn't know that Canada had any system I inspired programs until last year when I heard about sistema Toronto and I was so excited to hear that Canada had caught on but after this initial excitement wore off a little bit I still had to take a step back and I thought to myself you know this is really great but Canada is a very different place from Venezuela with a comparable population size our homicide rate is 600 people per year compared to the 20,000 in Venezuela and 8% of our children are living in low-income households compared to the estimated 70% in Venezuela in 2006 and geographically were far more vast and are we our population speaks over 200 languages and we have this huge diversity of cultural backgrounds and what's more we have enough trouble funding our arts programs in our school system so could this really work here do we have the same social needs as Venezuela I was flirting about Systema this and sistema that and I couldn't help but wonder if maybe we were just jumping on the old Systema bandwagon so I took some time to look into this question on my own what does the el sistema model for music education look like in Canada so of the nine programs that I've listed here no two programs are identical most some of these different stems from the amount of resources that are available to the programs but most of the difference comes from the different communities that the programs are located in and catering to some programs like sistema Toronto for example serve a specific neighborhood and in that case it's Parkdale in Toronto while other other programs serve a broader demographic here in Hamilton an instrument for every child is closely linked with the school board in Ottawa the leading note foundation is affiliated with the universities of Ottawa and Carleton for research purposes and also for some student mentorship by students in the university students in the music programs there some programs offer bands some strings most offer some sort of choir and only one program in Canada receives any government funding at the moment and that's Systema D Brunswick which is our only provincial program and its affiliated with the New Brunswick Youth Orchestra and they have received over 1 million dollars in provincial funding to date the rest of the programs rely exclusively on sponsorship and this really determines the types of programs they can offer the facilities they can use and how many teachers they can have so funding has been a major obstacle in implementing programs here in Canada but our programs have still been remarkably successful at least in maintaining that they're offering free music to children who otherwise wouldn't have access and on top of all the other benefits of the program this in and of itself is hugely beneficial for Canadian families as it enables them to avoid paying for child care services most days after school saving them hundreds of dollars each month so though our programs are independent of one another they all share the same core values and features and that's group lessons peer mentorship inclusion peer mentorship and inclusion and they give kids an opportunity on a daily basis to engage and have fun and be themselves through music making and this is when I start to realize that El Sistema is not so much a tangible structured program that we can transplant from Venezuela into Canada as much as it is a philosophy and the key to the success of these programs in Canada is the adaptability of this philosophy we don't have to match our system of Venezuela to a tea in order to function just as well adaptability of this philosophy to our communities and to the resources available to us is what enables this idea of social change through music education to thrive in new contexts making mistakes learning from them moving forward adapting this idea of learning from one another and inspiring others is deeply ingrained in the El Sistema philosophy and plays a huge role in the adaptability of the program in 2009 maestro Abreu won the TED Prize and the TED Prize is an award offered by the Ted organization and it's a monetary prize for somebody who has an idea that will hopefully benefit the global community and what Abreu did with his prize is he founded a fellowship organization where professional musicians from around the world could come to Venezuela and work in the nucleus and share their skills in exchange for learning about the program and taking those ideas back to their own communities here in Canada we've been excellent about deepening our understanding of how to adapt this philosophy to our communities we've had four symposiums to date where music educators across the country have come together to discuss the picture of el sistema in Canada what works in what doesn't in order to improve our programs here and there has even been discussion about the potential for having our own system our own national system for funding and communication purposes and this exchange of information this interaction this dialogue is all really integral to the improvement of our programs here and the adaptability of the program here but really what does the el sistema model for music education look like in Canada in the spring of last year I went down to sistema Toronto to see what they were up to and I was really surprised by what I saw there I walked into a classroom of maybe 15 or 20 students and they were all between the ages of 6 and 12 and they were clearly from a multitude of diverse cultural backgrounds and they were strings ensemble so they were holding violins and violas and cellos and basses and the director motion for the ready position and the students responded appropriately and they watched him intently for the downbeat and then they broke out into Vivaldi spring and it was of course a modified version of the Valdez spring but each instrument still had its own part and they really sounded like a little Orchestra and what impressed me the most was how well the kids responded with both body language and and volume to express the emotions of the piece and these are just you know six seven eight year old kids and with every passing minute the kids became more and more energized with every new piece with every musical epiphany moment with every joke from their equally energetic and incredibly devoted teachers without whom the program really couldn't function and at the end of the day I got to watch a little girl bounce out of the room with glee because she was given permission for the first time to take her instrument home for the weekend to practice it's clear that these kids love what they do and that they're proud of themselves so what does the El Sistema model for music education look like in Canada well I haven't been to Venezuela to observe a session there but I have a feeling that it isn't very different from what I saw in Toronto kids making music with their peers having fun as part of a group and no matter how well they play they're benefitting in some way be it intellectually emotionally or socially in Canada we not have economic poverty that's as extreme or widespread as we might see in Venezuela but social exclusion still exists here and socio-economic disparity still exists here and though most of our children might have access to clean drinking water and the majority you might stay in school until they're at least 16 doesn't mean that we don't still have kids who lack hope or who have low self-esteem or who struggle academically or who feel that they don't belong in their communities be they from a low-income neighborhood or a place of economic privilege those problems are universal and that's why the program is so valuable here it's amazing to me how something as simple as music can cause such widespread social impact but at the same time it makes sense many social programs intervene in order to target a specific problem music education works from within equipping students from a very young age with a strong sense of community feelings of self-worth and hope and this all helps them to transcend obstacles in their lives be they physical or emotional music education does not cause social change in the case of these programs children cause social change music education just gives them the foundations to do so thank you you

Author Since: Mar 11, 2019

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