Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Truly Using Existing Community Resources

Last week I attended a fundraiser St Paul Conservatory of Music breakfast with two extraordinary performances by youth under the age of 10! Their performances were truly at the conservatory level. SPCM has been around for 25 years and this is when I reaffirm the work that's already being done in our communities and how important it is to collaborate with them rather than tell them to "move over, El Sistema is comin' through!"

One thing El Sistema constantly preaches is the "accessibility" piece. Yet, I found out the piano player I mentioned above was on a 90% scholarship level. My old thoughts were that most of the time scholarship kids are seen as merely an outreach program and that El Sistema was the only thing to truly be accessible to all, but Gideon's performance showed me differently. And any high-quality school ensemble IS accessible to all. I didn't have to pay a cent to be in the Stillwater choir. It was that conservatory level we are enthralled by with El Sistema Venezuela occurring right here in Minnesota!! That's what we have to remember. That conservatories and music culture ALREADY EXIST here in the US. That we don't need to build music programs here, we need to provide programs USING these existing resources.

As i meet with more and more people and attend more and more trainings, I am increasingly grateful daily for these resources. I am now Youth Participant Quality Assessment trained, a national training that assesses quality in youth development programs. After writing our 30+ page paper on assessment in the arts, I realize how little of the iceberg we truly touched. The YPQA is a national tool for youth development programs, yet I had never heard of it until Sprockets. How many other assessment tools are already written and resources that are happy to share if all we have to do is ask? This was a huge intent for the Rep and Resource Library. So that we directors who are so busy, don't have to continually reinvent the wheel. In Minnesota, we have youth development institutes! Why am I trying to build a "new" youth development program when I have experts and tools at my fingertips? My true goal that I am writing aloud to be held accountable to, is not to design a new program; but rather use all of the existing resources collaboratively and by the collective whole creating a "new" program.

Another tenet we constantly talk about in El Sistema is the parent involvement. Yet St Paul Promise Neighborhood and St Paul Public Schools DO have a strong emphasis on this even going so far as to have a Parent Academy and a Wellness Cultural Center! By using these existing resources, I can build upon someone else's foundation, instead of trying to start without a cornerstone in place.

So my question then is this. What is "new" about El Sistema-inspired programs? My answer to you is this.

As wonderful as the work of the conservatory is, the focus is that: to be a conservatory focusing on individual performers, and there is nothing wrong with that. However, in contrast, El Sistema in my mind focuses on the ensemble, bridging the gap between the community and the musicians; they're one in the same. While this is obviously at a visionary level, we can start small by frequently performing for the community and involving them. Not with affectless performances where you are glared at if you applaud between movements (No fingers pointed ;p), but rather a celebratory informance (a word I heard the other day and have adopted), informing the community of what is going on and celebrating the community.

My goal is to truly link all parties together so that it is not a "new" program, but a selection of the fittest, linking all parties together-charter/public schools, colleges, high school students, other youth choirs, other non-music youth development programs, and thus providing high quality, while building upon the work that others have done for decades if not half-centuries!

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