About the Speakers
|Richard Hallam, MBE, is England’s National Music Education Grant Director and member of the steering group for In Harmony Sistema England. Globally recognized for his leadership in programs that use music to bring positive change to the lives of children and youth in some of the most deprived areas of his country, he shared his experience developing England’s National Plan for Music Education.|
|Jonathan Govias, Phd, based in Boston, is a distinguished conductor, author and speaker and a leading consultant on organizational, strategic and pedagogical practices for social initiatives. He brought to the discussions his passion for working with young orchestras and the transformative power of “social music.”|
|Tina Fedeski and Margaret Tobolowska, professional flutist and cellist respectively, are co-founders of the Leading Note Foundation and Executive Director and Artistic Director of OrKidstra, the Ottawa music program for inner-city children. They spoke of the many successes, lessons and challenges that they have experienced during the five-year life of the program.|
Summary of Speaker's Remarks
|Dr. Jonathan Govias|
He began with a review of some of the research, psychology and sociology underpinning the learning process – highlighting “the fundamental of learning through interaction with the environment, repetitively.” He contrasted this with the hierarchical, highly structured and, for the student, largely passive environment which has traditionally marked educational practices, with little change in the past one hundred years - “Moses on high, children of Israel below.” This was illustrated by a dramatic photograph of a large classroom, with rows of desks and children uniformly resting their heads on folded arms.
By contrast, Govias highlighted the literature emphasizing the importance of social interaction and greater spontaneity in the learning environment in which expertise can be shared between children of different ages and/or different levels of competence. Two quotes underscored his emphasis on the importance of social interaction as a catalyst for learning: the significance of “stimulation of the child’s powers by the demands of the social situations in which he finds himself” (Dewey); and “Every function in a child’s cultural development appears twice: first on the social level, then the individual. All higher functions originate as actual relationships” (Vygotsky).
Govias then introduced the El Sistema model as an example of what might result if one took away all the constraints which mark our traditional educational environment. He emphasized the compromises which El Sistema refuses to make – beginning with time. El Sistema restores the time appropriate to a child’s development. It offers a low-intensity setting where one learns through doing – and in a highly social learning environment where older children assist younger ones or where the more advanced work with the less advanced. He contrasted this to practicing solo in a lonely environment, a practice which, in his view, explains why many leave music around the age of 12. He also emphasized the inclusive nature of the El Sistema model. The less skilled can readily participate; in that regard, “bigger is actually better”.
In his view, Venezuela’s pursuit of the El Sistema approach reflects the fact that it is, first and foremost, a program for social development through music. Its emphasis on ensemble playing, peer engagement and aiming for excellence provides a “clear path for children both cognitively and socially – the uncompromising system.”
A participant asked whether the El Sistema model uniquely focused on classical music. Govias replied that, though late in coming, one now saw increasing diversity of musical genres within the program, citing jazz and aboriginal music as two examples. He suggested, however, that a major advantage of the classical music genre was the scale of its repertoire, permitting both small and very large ensemble playing.
Interesting material can be found on Jonathan Govias' website: www.jonathangovias.com .
|Tina Fedeski and Margaret Tobolowska|
- Social change through musical excellence: accentuating the joy of making music together; inheriting the “play and struggle” (tocar y luchar) motto of El Sistema, playing as if it’s the last time one will be able to do so”;
- The fundamental role of the ensemble: mentorship, always helping each other; the importance of group interaction; and the social aspects of learning, working and performing together;
- Frequency: the development of “Kid-powered program levels,” which vary according to the degree of commitment the child is able and willing to make. These include: Community Program – once-a-week, introductory level, typically choral programming; Commitment Program – minimum of one/up to three times a week, instrument typically given; Dedication Program – additional instruction tailored to the interests/needs of the highly committed student;
- Accessibility: 85% of children receive free instruction; otherwise, contributions are made on a sliding scale based on income level; one intent is to accentuate that OrKidstra is a community, not a “poor kids’ program”;
- Connectivity: broad engagement of mentors, students, parents and volunteers; links with the local cultural, educational and social infrastructure.
Fedeski characterized her “Blue Sky” thoughts and ambitions as three-fold: a desire for OrKidstra to be the biggest feeder program to the Ottawa Youth Orchestra; a wish to inspire music educators and to create bridges between schools and the OrKidstra program; and optimism that this was a time of considerable creativity – a possible ‘tipping point’ in music education within the Ottawa educational community.
More information on the OrKidstra programs and on the work of The Leading Note Foundation can be found at www.orkidstra.ca .
|Richard Hallam, MBE|
For those looking to develop Sistema-inspired programs, he suggested several challenges: what are the non-negotiable central features; what do you adopt, what do you adapt; what influences those decisions; and how do we learn from the phenomenal success of El Sistema?
Though El Sistema is primarily a social program, its relationship with music education program cannot be ignored. In England there is already an entitlement to music education for all children in school and for every child to learn a musical instrument from specialist teachers. In the last four years alone almost 2.5 million pupils have had the opportunity to learn to play a musical instrument. Forty-four percent have continued to learn. There are some 35,000 ensembles of varying sizes and composition, but these are not ‘joined up’ into a network as they are in Venezuela.
In the UK context Hallam cited El Sistema principles as six-fold:
- The importance of learning together and helping each other;
- The centrality of the ensemble;
- The importance of challenging repertoire and high expectations;
- The total commitment of all involved;
- The importance of performance; and
- The greater good of the whole.
Commenting on several of the salient features of England’s National Plan for Music Education, he underlined the unswerving commitment by both the Department for Education and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport - a duality that recognizes the music education and social development objectives inherent in El Sistema. This commitment recognizes the importance of music in the lives of young people and the need to ensure that they are given a music education of the highest quality.
The engagement of the entire community is key. Hallam described great music education as a partnership between classroom teachers, specialist teachers, professional performers and a host of organizations, including those from the arts, charity and volunteer sectors. The National Plan was clear about the importance of music: it will ensure not just that more children have access to the greatest of art forms, but that they do better as a result in every other subject. Hallam emphasized that a high quality music education enables lifelong participation in, and enjoyment of, music, as well as underpinning excellence and professionalism for those who choose not to pursue a career in music.
Hallam urged the widest possible coverage, cautioning that a high quality music education must not become the preserve of those children whose families can afford to pay for music tuition. While music touches the lives of all young people, the disadvantaged can benefit most.
He noted that music helps bind pupils into the wider life of the school. He also emphasized that schools cannot do everything alone, but need the support of a wider local music structure. Accordingly, central to the National Plan, is the creation of new music education hubs – that will provide opportunities that reach beyond school boundaries and draw in the expertise of a range of education and arts partners.
Hallam identified core roles of the National Plan for Music Education as follows:
- Ensure that every child aged 5-18 has the opportunity to learn a musical instrument;
- Provide opportunities to play in ensembles and to perform from an early stage;
- Ensure that clear progression routes are available and affordable to all young people;
- Develop a singing strategy to ensure that every pupil sings regularly and that choirs and other vocal ensembles are available in the area.
During the question and answer period, Hallam focused on the relative merits of in-school and out-of-school music education options and the connection between the two. He acknowledged the argument, consistent with the Sistema philosophy, that out-of-school options had the advantage of better breaking with the rigidities of the traditional school environment in favour of one of which the children could better “take ownership”. He also cited the “whole school engagement” model followed in one of the In Harmony El Sistema pilots. In short, he saw merits in both in-school and after-school programs and valuable connections between the two.
The U.K.’s national plan for music can be found at www.education.gov.uk/publications (see “The importance of music. A national plan for music education.”) For more information on the El Sistema-inspired pilot projects, see www.ihse.org.uk .