The final week the opera was being prepared, I was a delegate at Big Noise in Raploch, Scotland meeting others from 28 countries and hearing about their programs. A lot I learned just by experiencing and seeing a full continuum from baby-adulthood. Really quite incredible. And to see their community efforts: adult orchestra, bringing teachers to family houses to perform, and my favorite from our friends in Sweden, a venstay, where the community comes together and sings and dances and shares together. It was a pity the positive motivation session didn't happen, but we did talk about discipline, music, etc. It was the first teaching conference and very duly noted that the frame and tone was completely distinct from that of a conference of managers/directors. It was incredibly inspiring to see the scope of to whom they offer programming and to hear that they didn't have a second site til six years in, working on solidifying and growing their first site. The other thing I wanted to applaud was not only the age range they served, but also the ability level; they had a program at every school including the special needs school and learning about the technological instruments that adapt music to be friendly toward their needs was also a highlight.
Watching orchestra classes also made me understand that there is just something about instruments that cannot be accomplished with choir; not good nor bad, just is. Though watching the National Youth Choir of Scotland rehearse reminded me how rehearsal can be musically productive with kid-friendly language like "trampoline tummies" and have silly exercises like a round of "One Bottle of Pop" that still have musical value.
One of the largest differences I couldn't help but notice was the lack of behavioral problems and the homogeneity of the students. This is a huge advantage Venezuela also has of only having to address one cultural background. It's one of the reasons why ComMUSICation is so powerful, but makes it one of the most challenging. How do I coming from my background address the backgrounds of seven different cultures? The other large difference I noticed was the difference of school dynamic and structure. In Scotland, they don't have music during the day so something like Sistema is not competing with the current music education programs because there isn't such a thing. Here, there are music programs, albeit of a lower intensity and dare I say often times quality, but when the public schools are sustaining public music education the last thing I want to do is provide a scapegoat to providing this education. It is rare for cities to have public music magnet schools, but St. Paul has that and I do not want to supplant this excellent school. Perhaps we can be an addition to this, but as principal it would be no contest to have an organization offer a minimal charge for music class or have to pay a teacher with benefits, even at half-time.
The country of Scotland had some of the most welcoming, friendly people who were all thanking us for being there instead of us thanking them for making everything possible and working 14 hour days to ensure the conference was running smoothly. So humble. Their Chief Executive was so approachable and really seemed to try to know the delegates on a personal level, staying up far later than I did at the hotel bar to get to know people. I even succeeded in my vegetarian diet! The ceilh was an event I will never forget. Think contradancing with men in kilts and bagpipes and a Scottish lilt caller.
Sistema Europe is also worth mentioning. Most of their programs started before the US boom took place and many were chorally-based! They've gotten together for summer camps, seminarios, and don't have the competitive edge that exists in the US. Nothing but welcoming towards others and inviting everyone to work together. It was also great to speak Italian and Spanish again :) Swedes were the majority of the conference and I surprisingly was of average height! There's an organization called Superar that is a multi-country Sistema choral based program! Sharing the songs from other delegates is something I hope to incorporate into the parent/community aspect of ComMUSICation, gathering parents monthly. What I heard again and again is persistence and using existing relationships to build new relationships.
Edinburgh as a city was the perfect city for Halloween with its underground vaults, alleys, and old charm, complete with a castle. It was originally built on a volcanic rock and when they wanted to expand the city they built up rather than out. I did have a couple days to do some hiking which was far worth it (See Facebook!). Dublin had a live music scene unlike any I'd ever seen, in fact Temple Bar even set the record for longest consecutive music session, but after 10 PM you had to be ready for ruckus.
Will the US ever get to that level of public transportation? I suppose time will tell, but was really incredible how cars were never an option, even going to tiny towns. To think a little town like Afton would have a train station, is really quite astounding.
I hope to return to Scotland to do the Highlands and Isle of Skye. With some of the most laid-back, friendly, genuine people, I highly recommend their country.