Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Last day... for now

Today was an amazing day. This week was an amazing week. This month was an amazing month.

Today was my final day in New Orleans as part of this internship. I probably won't be updating my blog daily anymore, but will aim for at least 1-2 times a week. I hope you all will continue reading- I value the feeling that someone is joining me for this journey that I'm on. Thank you.

I started today with Jean Mont├Ęs, the Musical Director of the Greater New Orleans Youth Orchestras, an inspiring conductor from Haiti with an inspiring story and a contagious passion. We met initially in his offices at Loyola University, where he is Director of Orchestral Studies and Coordinator of Strings. We then took our conversation to the offices of GNOYO, where I received enough GNOYO marketing material to fill a GNOYO shoulder bag (which I needed). I felt significant resonance from Jean and the other individuals associated with the youth orchestra that we met with. The mission of El Sistema is very close to Jean's heart, and I have no doubt that we will work together in the future.

I then had the pleasure of sitting down to lunch with the coordinators of LUCAP- the Loyola University Community Action Program. I learned a lot about the culture of student volunteerism at Loyola, as well as the deep culture of service learning not only at Loyola, but also at other schools throughout New Orleans. For any El Sistema program to truly succeed, there needs to be a dedicated corps of volunteers, whether that be parents or students from a local university. There is great potential in this.

Later that afternoon, I visited the music program at Crocker Elementary. The funding for the teacher behind this program and its phenomenal success thus far was initially through Artist Corps New Orleans. Artist Corps partners with schools lacking in music education in order to place highly trained Teaching Artists in a position to create a music education curriculum and sustain it. Rebecca Crenshaw is the amazing teaching artist in question- she has grown the program from meager beginnings 3 years ago to securing the funding to teach strings to about 130 students. The school has a total of about 254 students, so there are many students who currently don't take advantage of the voluntary offering- I'd be very interested to see how their attendance and test scores compare to those that do study music with Rebecca. These kids were great, and I got to play some fun energy, movement,  and performance games with the various age groups throughout the afternoon. It was so much fun!

I then visited the New Orleans Strings Project- a program which provides group lessons and theory instruction to students from all over the city. The board for this program is currently chaired by the woman who started the strings program at Lusher Elementary 11 years ago for her daughters who were attending at the time. She is a powerful and passionate advocate for music and music education- not only for the sake of music itself, but because of the work music does in building the whole person. I also sat down with another board member for NOSP and she shared her thoughts on the needs in New Orleans, specifically in relationship to the impoverished, violent youth who feel like they have nothing to lose. She said they feel disconnected, and have stopped behaving within the 'system' of normal behaviors and expectations. There is no connection to our societal definitions of 'success', nor, more significantly, concern regarding typical societal punishments. If they are currently playing the game completely by their own rules, what could give them a sense of context and community? What could help them understand that there are not only important rules in this game, but that they're playing on a team?

The night finished with a delicious meal prepared by clarinetist Evan Christopher, his lovely wife Nina, and my collaborator on the ground, Sonya Robinson. Good food + good company = a fantastic last night in New Orleans... for now.

I have asked a lot of questions thus far, and the conversation is far from over. When it comes to questions, after all, it's not about the answers, but the conversation.

Questions of the Day:
Who was on your 'team' when you were a child? 
How did you know they were on your 'team'? 
Who is on your 'team' now?

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