Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Who is wise?

"Who is wise? He who learns from all people"
-Pirkei Avot, Chapter 4, Mishna 1(b)

I came to New Orleans to listen and to observe, to attempt to understand what is currently so that I might eventually work with others to envision what might be. I entered this journey with the goal of building relationships based on inquiry, asking questions to fuel possibility and connections. Sometimes when you ask questions, you get more questions in return, and that iterative exploration can be exciting and enlightening. However, sometimes when you ask questions (a lot of questions), you get answers (a lot of answers). Sifting through all of the answers brings to mind the image of a gold miner, panning for gold. Here is one gleaming response I have heard over and over again:

There is a lot of music in New Orleans, but there is a K-6 access gap in music education. 

There is music EVERYWHERE here, and I love it. There is no lack of exposure to music in this city- it's ubiquitous. However, the first time many students have the opportunity to pick up an instrument is 6th grade, and for many, that opportunity doesn't present itself until high school. The students who get into advanced musical study programs such as NOCCA received a head-start because they had the means to seek out privately what isn't offered publicly. The children in underserved communities in New Orleans get to hear the music all the time, but they don't have the opportunity to participate in it – they are relegated to the audience. Universal access to early childhood music education for the sake of the music itself, is enough, but there is much more to be gained. These children who have access to musical study early on develop a sense of self-discipline necessary to master a skill, a control of self needed to practice everyday. In mastering a skill, they learn they have the power to set a goal for themselves and accomplish it. They learn the joy of accomplishment, so that they set their sights higher, because they have already learned what it feels like to succeed. They have felt what it means to develop themselves and then give back to their community, whether that be through a recital or through an ensemble performance. And, when the performance is over, they've received recognition for their contribution and accomplishment. These skills are transferred into every aspect of a child's life- strengthening and shaping their core abilities and how they interact with their world throughout their early years. The underserved youth who don't have access to musical education early due to lack of financial resources might be losing out on more than just a sparkling 6th grade band audition.

I say this tentatively, because I don't want the emphasis here to become anything other than questions, but I think that we may have identified a need. 

Questions of the day: 
What is gained through musical study in early childhood? Is anything gained other than music itself? 
for the child? for the family? for the community? 
What other opportunities/avenues exist for children to gain the extra-musical benefits of musical study?  

For those interested in further study, in the spirit of learning from everyone possible, I'm passing along a resource collection collated by my friend, colleague, and fellow Abreu Fellow David France:

Bibliographic References
Borzacchini, C. (2004). Venezuela bursting with orchestras. Caracas: Banco del Caribe.
Carroll, R.  (2007). "Chávez pours millions more into pioneering music scheme". The Guardian (London): Retrieved 8 September 2007.
Graves, J. (2005). Cultural Democracy:  The arts, the Community, and the Public Purpose. Urbana: University of Illinois Press.
Hetland, L. (2000) Learning to Make Music Enhances Spatial Reasoning . Journal of Aesthetic Education, Vol. 34, No. 3/4   
Jackson, M. R. (2008).“Art and cultural participation at the heart of community life.” In J. Cherbo, R. A. Stewart, and M. Wyszomirski (eds.). Understanding the Arts and the Creative Sector in the United States. New Brunswick: Rutgers.
Webber, J. (2011) “El Sistema: When Music Cuts Crime and Saves Lives.” The Telegraph (London) Retrieved 13 October 2011.
Electronic references
Booth, Eric.  El Sistema’s Open Secrets.  2010.  Unpublished
Inter-American Development Bank (2007). Program to support the Center for Social Action through Music (VE-L1017). Washington, D.C.: Inter-American Development Bank.
Fundación del Estado para el Sistema Nacional de Orquestas Juveniles e Infantiles de Venezuela (FESNOJIV) (2011). Website. Retrieved from:
Mora-Brito, Daniel.(2011)Between social harmony and political dissonance: the institutional and policy-based intricacies of the Venezuelan System of Children and Youth Orchestras.  Master’s Dissertation.  University of Texas at Austin
Documentaries and audiovisual materials
Arvelo, A. (2010) (Director). Dudamel. Let the Children Play [Documentary]. Caracas
Arvelo, A. (2006) (Director). Tocar y Luchar [Documentary]. Caracas: FESNOJIV, Explorart Films, CNAC and CONAC.
TED (2009). José Antonio Abreu on kids transformed by music. Acceptance speech of José Antonio Abreu (TED Prize) [Video]. New York: TED. Retrieved on April 27, 2011 from:

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