Thursday, September 27, 2012

Giulia Interviews Jonathon - Nine-Year-Old Violinist/Conductor

Our guest blogger and volunteer from Italy, Giulia Molteni, reflects on her time with the YOURS Project:


My time here in Chicago is coming to an end. Before I leave, I'd like to introduce you to a few other dear fellows I have met during this adventurous journey through the YOURS Project. 
Today I had an inspiring talk with Jonathan, an amazing violin player, only nine years old. Every time I speak with kids, I'm always amazed by their ability to express thoughts and feelings in such a genuine and sincere way.

Giulia: Hey Jonathan, when and why did you start playing music?

Jonathan: I started playing in the orchestra when I was in kindergarten. I've been playing violin from three and a half years of age. Actually I didn't start with violin, I started with drums! Now I play them just for fun. A couple of months ago, I was playing clarinet for a week but then I discovered that it wasn't my instrument.I belong to a family of musicians. Once my father told me that my grandparents played all the brass instruments!

G: Wow! A close friend and great teacher at Monroe Elementary School told me that not only do you play an instrument, but also you love conducting! I'm really curious to find out more about that..

J: Well, one day at the rehearsal we were practicing William Tell with the orchestra. Since Milan (the YOURS orchestra conductor at the time) was working with others, I decided to grab my bow and start conducting. Deborah (The YOURS Project Founder) saw me and she asked if I wanted be a conductor and I said "yes!!". Then Miss Ivana taught me conducting at rehearsals on Tuesday and Thursday. In the auditorium of the school I conducted Star Wars and other great pieces! My parents and my little sister went every time to see me at the concerts! Now at home my sister and I usually play concertos and pieces we find on the internet and we have a lot of fun conducting!

G: Great! So Jonathan, it seems that you spend lots of time playing and listening to music. What is your favorite musical genre?

J: Rap!! I love the singer Tyler James Williams. In his songs, he always tells about others and never about himself.

G: What is music for you?

J: It's my life!! It helps me think about the others and not only about myself. Every time I go downtown and pick my mother up, there's so much music around me. I'm happy!!

G: Your spontaneous answer explains everything! So you want to become a great musician..

J: Actually I want to become a paleontologist! I've wanted to ever since I heard about dinosaurs and saw a really cool show about them. Now I read a lot of books on dinosaurs. But even if I become a paleontologist, I'll spend my spare time practicing and music will be in my life forever.

The photo of this kid speaks for itself: two very deep brown eyes, a shy and genuine smile, a long path ahead of him and, mostly, lots of enthusiasm and positive attitude that must be an example for everyone! 

2012-09-25 15.43.55.jpg
Jonathon - age 9

-Giulia Molteni 

Monday, September 24, 2012

Giulia's Penultimate Week - Reflections

Our guest blogger and volunteer from Italy, Giulia Molteni, reflects on her penultimate week with the YOURS Project:

Another week full of activities has just finished at Hibbard Elementary School.  Actually, though fun, it was really arduous and, as everything is at the beginning, full of decisions to make and problems to solve.
First, not knowing when classes were going to be, due to the Chicago Teachers Union strike, it was kind of hard to group teachers, interns, and volunteers. But all of us tried to do our best and were prepared for every kind of activity/warm-up/rehearsal together with the students from our 3 orchestras. .

This week, not only did I continue to observe and help as a volunteer as part of the YOURS Project faculty but I also had very different teaching experiences than I've had before: I taught basic musical fundamentals to both viola players and our intermediate orchestra students; I taught piano lessons to violin players who were really excited about learning something new, and I also stood in for the percussion teacher.
Experiencing teaching in such different situations in only a week was challenging and gave me the opportunity to reflect seriously about what it really means to be involved in an educational program with a specific social commitment, as an El Sistema-inspired program must be.
In the past few days, I've thought a lot about my experiences, and I feel it important to share them with you all, my friends, and especially fellow music teachers.

Even though I don't have any previous experience as a percussion teacher, when I was asked to help the young students I accepted very willingly. Since the piano is a percussion instrument, I usually work a lot on aspects of rhythm, so I suggested that the students perform different exercises together: sequences of basic rhythms, overlapping rhythms and counterpoint to clap, to dance and to play on the instrument. I also taught them a song and made a simple extemporaneous arrangement to encourage them to play together. Finally, I asked them to keep the beat and invent rhythms while I was playing some rag time and brazilian pieces on the piano. In short, I worked on how to play with the others, pay attention to the different nuances of sound an orchestra can create, and how to maintain a solid rhythmical basis throughout a piece. 
Actually, it was really hard to deal with them and hold their attention. A few of them spent part of the lesson talking over my voice, without listening and collaborating together. I know that they are kids, but as a teacher, I feel responsible for educating the students and letting them know how music can really change their life. But all of this requires commitment, responsibility on both sides, and especially enthusiasm and passion, because no one is forced to attend a musical program.

Teaching music is one of the most challenging jobs. Everyday you have to work first on yourself and continue to improve not only the specific and technical aspects of your musicality, but also the social and relationship skills involved. Mostly, you always keep in mind that, when you teach, the relationship established consists of three elements: the teacher, the student, and MUSIC (that includes the philosophy and the goals of the project you are involved in).
So, being interested in delving deeper into the methodology and philosophy of El Sistema, yesterday I visited the website ( and very carefully read each section. I admit that I've never done it seriously so far. Of course, no reading can replace an experience, but, if you want to translate a project conceived in one culture to another, you must be aware of the fundamentals of that project.

Below, I summarize what I feel are the most important aspects of El Sistema that everybody should know and care about:

El Sistema is an organization committed to social development through an innovative and hope-instilling music education program, distinguished by its EXCELLENCE and for having a POSITIVE IMPACT on the communities where it is implemented. Its orchestras and choruses program help the youngest in achieving their FULL POTENTIAL and fulfill THEIR DREAMS of personal and professional realization through music. "Music is not only the product of the talent and virtuosity of its creators. It is the reflection of the soul of the people and, in this case, is the outgrowth of an education program." So these young musicians must be an example of SELF-IMPROVEMENT and VITALITY to their fellows. The guiding maxim "TO PLAY and TO FIGHT" implies FIRMNESS of purpose and PERSEVERANCE. To play and to fight means undertaking music as a collective experience which also involves INDIVIDUAL EFFORT! It entails a relentless pursuit of excellence and, above all, it means persevering until dreams become reality."
And about the El Sistema methodology, the site said that "Kids of preschool age begin with work on BODY EXPRESSIVENESS and RHYTHM. Encouraging the children to keep their bodies active while playing is a key feature of the program in later years. Early instruction includes SINGING and playing with a student's instrument... El Sistema's primary focus is to create a daily haven of safety, joy and fun that builds every child's self-esteem and sense of value. Discipline is relaxed but enforced. ATTENDANCE IS NOT AN ISSUE; the children want to be at their local Nucleo for themselves, their teachers and their fellow students. HARD WORK AND FULL ACHIEVEMENT ARE CRUCIAL TO THE SUCCESS OF EL SISTEMA. However a feeling of fun is never forgotten."

What I reported speaks for itself. I only want to add that everyday we must build with effort and love the projects we believe in, living peacefully within our limits, but never giving up. Day after day we walk with our student along a path that will lead to the most beautiful destinations.

-Giulia Molteni 

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Giulia's Tenth Day - Andrea Interview

Our guest blogger and volunteer from Italy, Giulia Molteni, reflects on her 10th day with the YOURS Project:


Today I'm very glad to introduce you to an energetic and dedicated person: Andrea Grinberg, cello faculty and beginning orchestra strings teacher at Hibbard Elementary School. 

Giulia: Andrea, how long have you been involved in the YOURS Project here in Chicago? What made you want to join a musical program with a specific social commitment?  
Andrea: I started out with the YOURS Project in 2011, when the program expanded and began at Monroe Elementary. I started out as a volunteer, teaching the lower strings and helping out with the larger groups as well. Why El Sistema? Well, I have been playing the cello since the age of five and was somewhat of a child prodigy. Throughout my years playing, performing and competing, it became increasingly apparent to me that the music world I was growing up in was lacking so much. Our art was confined to the concert halls and competition rooms, and no one 'out there' knew about us. Music is so much more than just notes on a page played with skill. I have always known that it has the ability to save lives and uplift souls in a way that no other medium in this world can, but couldn't find the venues to do so. In response to this, I have done many things such as starting an accessible concert series with my brother (a violinist), playing in 'unorthodox' venues, and making plans to gather a group of like minded musicians in Jerusalem. Now I feel that I have some answers and know how I want to proceed, and El Sistema is one of the ways. 
G: Currently, there are many El Sistema-inspired programs operating in many cities and towns around the world. I know you are from Canada. Are there any El Sistema-inspired programs or any similar projects in your country? 
A: I am originally from Toronto, Ontario, but I haven't lived in Canada for almost four years. When I left there wasn't much in terms of El Sistema-inspired programs, but there was a lot of talk about how much it was needed. Growing up, there was quite a bit of outreach done (schools going to concerts, people coming in and performing/teaching etc.) but there wasn't much follow-up and many children lacked the resources to actually pursue music. However, recently there has been an explosion of El Sistema-inspired programs which is very exciting! If I ever end up back in Canada I will definitely be involved with these programs. You can see a current list of Canadian programs at- http: update- I have spent the last three years in Jerusalem before moving to Chicago and really want to bring El Sistema to Isreal when I return. There is some outreach done in volatile areas such as Sderot, but with no followup or resources. And in the central cities there isn't anything as far as I know. I passionately believe that a place such as Israel, which has so many social divides and barriers, needs an El Sistema-inspired program to help bridge these gaps. My husband and I hope to gather a group of talented musicians and create a performing group that is accessible, passionate and wants to bring music into the hearts of those that don't even know it exists. We hope that these musicians would be the ones to teach and travel when we add an El Sistema component to this idea. I am trying to learn everything that I can while I am here in Chicago so this dream can become a reality. 
G: Last week, we went and listened to great performers at the Beethoven Festival Art and Music, and we were particularly affected by an excellent cellist, Amit Peled. Personally his sound left me speechless! I discussed this with Jessica Pearce, the brass teacher at Monroe, but I'd also like to ask you, as a string teacher, how do you help these young students work on intonation, to get a good sound.  
A: There is nothing in the world quite like creating a deep, rich sound on a stringed instrument. There are many techniques that lead to developing a good sound in students, but once they get it, it changes everything! Different students respond to different approaches, so I always try to tailor my teaching depending on the specific student's needs. However, there are some basic, universal principles to developing a beautiful sound; A student needs to learn how to let go of any tension that is working against him/her and use the natural weight of the arm to sink into the string. Every instrument will have a different ideal contact point and speed of the bow, so I will work with students to help find this. Finally, in terms of intonation, I believe that it is so important to train students to hear overtones. These are the natural vibrations that a stringed instrument creates when a note is in tune and ringing with the rest of the instrument, and the tone is allowing the vibrations to happen. It is sometimes difficult to teach, and not everyone can hear in the same way... but once a student experiences the bliss of creating a beautiful, deep and ringing sound, there is no going back!  
G: Share with us some of your most enthusiastic musical experiences!  
A: Wow, what a question! I have had so many, so I will just list those that come to mind first. Firstly, performing Bloch's Schelomo with a conductor that truly understood what I was trying to do, and an orchestra that had "just" understood the piece. I was so worried about this performance because the orchestra part is difficult and two days before the concert, we couldn't come close to getting through it. But something happened the day of the dress rehearsal... something clicked and the orchestra discovered how amazing the piece truly is. The performance was incredible, because there was so much passion and discovery in it. It's so important to play every concert like it is your first time, and also like it is your last. In this performance, even though I was young, I really felt like I gave everything that I had, and so did everyone that was playing with me. Secondly, I always try to get my non-musical acquaintances to understand the beauty of art music, and usually I have a lot of success! I did however, have this one friend who simply wasn't able to open up to it. I had tried many times and always received the same blank "meh" afterward. Then one day, this friend went through a difficult break up, and I sent him the second movement of Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto #2. He cried, a lot, and afterward called to tell me that when he listened to this music, he knew that even though he was sitting in his room shut away from the world, he wasn't alone. Thirdly, I remember hearing the Brahms String Sextet #1 for the first time, live at a music festival in Israel. It was performed with so much tenderness, passion, and life. I was transported. There is nothing quite like hearing something for the first time performed like that. I will never forget it. Lastly, the experience of working with the high school interns at Hibbard last week was wonderful. It was amazing to see their confidence grow and their playing improve because they were playing with their teachers. I remember when I was young how playing side by sides with professional orchestras always made my playing grow in leaps and bounds, and it was so amazing to see this happen for the interns. I am looking forward to playing with them more this year!

-Giulia Molteni

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Giulia's Ninth Day - Jessica Interview

Our guest blogger and volunteer from Italy, Giulia Molteni, reflects on her 9th day with the YOURS Project:


Delving deeper into the YOURS Monroe faculty, today I'd like to introduce you to the brass teacher, Jessica Pearce!
Giulia: Jessica, I'd like to find out more about your musical background and your previous teaching experiences. Is this the first time you have been involved in an El Sistema-inspired program here in Chicago? 
Jessica: This is my first time working with an El Sistema-inspired program
in Chicago, and I'm so excited to be a part of it.  I've mostly taught
private lessons in the past at nearby high schools, my home, and the University of Illinois at Chicago.  In May of 2011 I guest-taught at the YOLA program in Los Angeles, which is an El Sistema-inspired program led by Gustavo Dudamel.  I really admired the leaders of that initiative because they built an amazing program out of nothing, all for their love of music and children.  I wanted to be a part of something like that, so I am very thankful that I now have that opportunity through the YOURS Project! 
G: Great! So, we know that an El Sistema-inspired program works with communities to immerse young players in intensive ensemble-based music education. Last week, I observed you and the others teachers playing with the students during the classes and I really enjoyed it! How do you feel when you both teach and attend sectional rehearsals, being part of the group? 
J: Being a part of the team at Monroe Elementary School feels really
great.  I like learning from the other teachers and feeding off of
their energy.  Sometimes we can get stuck in a rut with our own
playing or teaching and teaching with a team means that you get to share lots of new ideas.
Leading a group of kids in sectionals is challenging and really
satisfying to me.  By striving to challenge the children, I challenge
myself to be more enthusiastic, engaging, and effective.  I have to
project my confidence and my love for music so that I can give my best to them. I also just have to let loose and not be self conscious. I'll sing, dance, clap, yell, or talk in a funny voice if it means that I get my ideas across in the best way. 
G: I find that, for a beginner, one of the most difficult things to work on is intonation. How do you help your students to devolop a good sound? 
J: We have a lot of brand new brass players in the program- which is
very exciting.  I have been working with them everyday on the basic principles of good breathing and posture.  I tell them the two things they need to focus on are "wind" and "song."  I ask them to sing the music so that they understand that their instrument just needs to be an extension of their voice.  If they play with great air and have the song in their ear, intonation will happen for them. It just takes focus.

-Giulia Molteni 

Monday, September 17, 2012

Giulia's Eighth Day - Hibbard's First Day!

Our guest blogger and volunteer from Italy, Giulia Molteni, reflects on her 8th day with the YOURS Project:


Today, the YOURS Project at Hibbard Elementary has finally started! At 9:00 a.m. the auditorium was crowded with lots of kids, very excited about the beginning of a new musical year together. To welcome these little players as warmly as possible, and to make the beginners comfortable with the new situation, Sylvia Carlson, the YOURS Project Nucleo Director at Hibbard, proposed splitting them up into instrument groups to play some ice-breaker games. 
I'm really happy to have had the opportunity to spend time with and to teach an instrument group, the violas, in collaboration with Andrew Aldo Gonzalez, the High School intern I introduced you to last week. We engaged these kids in many different activities, both to create a welcoming atmosphere, and to start working on basic techniques and exercises. In recounting this experience, I'd like to share with you some personal points of view regarding music education. 
As a pianist in an orchestral program, I can neither teach any instrument nor can I help students in solving the technical problems they have, according to the specific instrument they play. However, my musical background allows me to volunteer in a Project such as this, both as a fellow pianist and a music theory teacher. So, this morning I decided to work on musical fundamentals which, in my opinion must be covered before beginning to play an instrument: rhythm, breathing and singing. 

Rhythm:Throughout my learning and teaching experience, I've often noticed that students have lots of difficulty feeling the rhythm with their bodies and keeping the beat. On one hand, this difficulty is surprising because dancing has always been the most spontaneous and natural musical expression, attested by archaeological finds of almost every ancient civilization. On the other hand, this rhythmical problem makes sense because students study just reading music first, without practicing the movements and motion inherent in the music. So today I started the lessons with two simple but really useful games - the WAH game, as proposed by the YOURS Project Director Albert Oppenheimer, and a game to help people remember each other's names. Both games were played while the kids kept the beat, dancing in binary and ternary rhythms (ex. a waltz). 

Breathing:Another thing a musician must work on is breathing. Taking a moment each day to check-in with one's inner-self and breathe so that the body is free of tension really makes a difference long-term!There are lots of simple but very effective exercises to try, stimulating the imagination:-stand up tall, and lift your arms up above your head- imagine climbing a mountain, or grabbing our favorite sweet hanging from the ceiling-sit tall, as one is to play in orchestra, slowly rolling the shoulders up towards the ears and then circling them back and downwards. Imagine having pencils on the tips of the shoulders and drawing circles with them, bigger and bigger. -close the eyes and think of the chest widening and opening. Then release the body down and allow it to move freely, as if a puppet.It's important while doing these exercises to focus on the breathing, stimulating the concentration that a musician must have.Trust me: the kids had a lot of fun and understood the meaning of what they were doing.

Singing:Last but not least we worked on singing.When I asked the students if they liked singing, they answered 'NO!' So at first it was a challenging task to convince them to use their voices. After few games, at the end of the lesson, the room echoed not only my voice and the voice of Andrew, but theirs too!We had fun exploring the different kinds of sounds (low, central and high), imitating the cry of some animals (monkeys, dogs); all singing the musical scale together, while combining some movements. 

For the kids to be more aware of themselves and develop as people, it's necessary to return to a more natural dimension, closer to our core essence. And also, as a really sweet kid told me today, to 'NEVER GIVE UP!'

-Giulia Molteni

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Giulia's Seventh Day - Pictures and Reflections!

Our guest blogger and volunteer from Italy, Giulia Molteni, reflects on her 7th day with the YOURS Project:

An intensive week has just gone by at Hibbard Elementary School of Chicago. So far, in this amazing journey within the YOURS Project, I have met new friends and introduced you to some of them, sharing with you their musical backgrounds, previous experiences, feelings, and plans for the upcoming months. Day after day, during the next two weeks of my staying in Chicago, we'll find out more about these energetic and dedicated people involved with YOURS Project and we'll delve into new interesting stories.
What I really enjoyed was not only the hard work on strictly music stuff, such as covering the fundamentals - how to get a good sound, practising singing, solving rythmical problems - but I also really enjoyed the time spent discussing what was going on, why we were doing this work, and sharing different points of view. Also, we went and listened to excellent performers at the Beethoven Festival Art and Music: a great enriching occasion for both the YOURS Project interns and the teachers.
This week has been a breath of fresh air and enthusiasm. Much has already been said and much is going to happen and be defined in this growing Project. But, you know, when in a group there's a common goal, one's reliability and positive attitude will inspire confidence throughout the whole team.

-Giulia Molteni

YOURS Project Interns and Teachers :)


A YOURS Project Internship Art Project

Introducing: Ben Bolter, our new YOURS Orchestra Conductor!

Happy and musical at the end of great week <3 

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Giulia's Sixth Day - High School Intern Andrew Interview

Our guest blogger and volunteer from Italy, Giulia Molteni, reflects on her 6th day with the YOURS Project:

Today I really want you to get to know one of the YOURS Project High School Interns, 14-year-old Andrew Aldo Gonzales. 

Giulia: Andrew, I was very impressed by your enthusiasm at the introductory meeting of the YOURS Project High School Internship Workshop. I think it would be very interesting if you would share with all of us some of your experiences as student who has participated in the YOURS Project.  

Andrew: I would be happy to share a few of my experiences as a YOURS student at Monroe Elementary. When the YOURS Project first arrived at our school, I was so excited about it. I could finally be in a program I loved. I love music, and at our school we had band and orchestra, but they weren't classes that would go into depth and actually be satisfying. So when the YOURS Project came, it was my chance to finally advance as a musician, and I dedicated myself to this program. I found it so nice that we had private/section lessons with a person who specialized in that instrument, which was something I missed out on before the YOURS Project came. 
G: Which aspects of an El Sistema-inspired program have you absorbed in the course of your studies? Which of these do you feel is necessary to pass on to your younger peers? 
A: I never understood the Venezuelan El Sistema methods, nor do I know if anybody used them or not, but something that Albert said during our introductory meeting resonated- it is a social program. I felt very touched by that, and I couldn't agree more. Through the YOURS Project, I was able to be friends with so many additional students at my school instead of only knowing my peers from my own grade-level. I believed that these children really looked up to me, and it was truly an honor helping out with the program as much as possible. I felt that I became a little more aware of what being a leader means. As a student you just deal with your own self and try to better yourself. But everybody is different, whether it be the tuning or the sound of your instrument or your personality. As a leader, you have to see all these different things and make them work together as a musician/section/band/orchestra. So being empowered at the YOURS Project made me realize that you have to take into account everyone, not just yourself. So not only was I being a teacher, I was becoming more understanding towards others and becoming more social, and I was able too see that growth in other children as well.  
G: It's quite interesting that you grew up in an American city, but your parents are from Italy and Puerto Rico. Music is an enriching dimension in many different cultures. How do you combine all these cultural elements in your everyday music learning and teaching? 
A: Coming from a family from Puerto Rico and Italy, it is very interesting to see what kinds of music I can play. I have always grown up around Salsa, Bachata, Merengue, and Cumbia- typical Latino music. When I get a piece of music that has similar values, it seems easier for me to play, and I feel like I am connected to my heritage. I feel a very big void on my Italian side - my grandfather, who was Italian, died before I was born, and I never was able to share with him. I do know that his mother had great talent, and was a piano teacher. I feel that when I play or listen to music, I am learning a different culture, but at the same time, in a common language. And it is wonderful that I can learn about other countries, and people, through music. I think it is important in today's world to always share something in common with people, as people sometimes hate each other just because of our differences. Instead, it is nice to have something as powerful as music in common. I mean, if it can change a child/family/neighborhood/community/nation like Venezuela, we can all overcome many of our differences, and coexist happily. 
G: We live in a difficult moment for the education field. It's comforting to see young people who dream and hope to build a better future. Any plans? 
A: I find it so nice to meet people who are serious about education. Going to Northside College Prep, where I am a freshman, has helped me to see that everyday. We all share so many things in common. Being around grown- ups in the YOURS Project has helped me to see that there are people who care about our future. I am happy that they are making a difference in our lives. Opening us up to music, we are each able to connect with others who enjoy music as much as you do. It gives us something to look forward too, especially when I can do what you guys do, and help students become better individuals to ultimately build a better society. If I can do what you guys do, by doing what you love the most, and prove that music helps us become better people, and that it can help us in other ways, like education, I am so for it! I would love to continue what you guys do, and volunteer my time to teach others!

-Giulia Molteni

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Giulia's Fifth Day - Neeraj Interview

Our guest blogger and volunteer from Italy, Giulia Molteni, reflects on her 5th day with the YOURS Project:

In a music program involved in a social commitment, as the YOURS Project is, it's common to find dedicated people who take time out of their busy everyday life and want to volunteer.  
Today I'd like to share with you the experience of Neeraj Saraiya, a process engineer who volunteered at Hibbard as a low brass instructor for an entire year. 
Giulia: Neeraj, you're an engineer with a strong passion for music. What made you want to delve into a field radically different from your everyday profession, joining the YOURS Project? 
Neeraj: Well, I think it's more about who I am as a person.  I cannot see myself as simply a scientist - it's far too limiting.  I've been involved with music for such a long time, that being without some form of musical outlet can be confining.  Unfortunately, I stopped playing when I began graduate school at Northwestern in my field of study (Chemistry). However, about 5 years ago, I picked it back up again and began to really enjoy the experience - it reminded me of why I started in the first place - musicianship makes you feel alive.  There's a sense of community - working as a group to make notes on a page come to life and leave an audience caught in your magic.  Being involved in music is a great way for me to relax and meditate on just enjoying life.  It's the natural counterpoint as a scientist who normally sees from an analytical point of view.  The arts, and music in particular, allow one to feel and appreciate the emotional nuances of living - in essence, enjoying humanity.  It is only natural to want to pass these feelings and experiences of pure enjoyment onto others, especially those who are younger and looking at the world with fresh eyes.  When one of my friends, who also volunteers with the YOURS project, told me about the program, I jumped in feet first!  Although it may appear that music and the sciences are radically different, I would argue they work in concert. There are a lot of approaches from science that are inspired through some of the concepts and themes in music and vice versa.  Perhaps, it is a commentary on society's current approach to separate everything to their specific mechanics.  I think that's an error, because in the end, we overlook the similarities that help one area of discipline with the other.  Personally, being involved with YOURS and music gives me a sense of balance. 
G: Yesterday, at the meeting, the YOURS Projec Director Albert Oppenheimer reminded us all that the mission of an El Sistema-inspired program is to study the Venezuelan model and apply its principles, making music change the life of the students. It's a challenging task! As a volunteer, what does this commitment mean to you? 
N: I believe the El Sistema methodology is very special.  I compare it to the athletic programs popular in many countries, including here, in the United States.  The idea is that through hard work, dedication, and working together, goals can be achieved that also have the added benefit of bettering the lives of the participants and the communities in which they live.  Instead of using sport, we use music as our vehicle for achieving social benefit.  In all honesty, when I started, I was not fully aware of what the El Sistema methodology really was - however, my past year's experience has given me a new found appreciation of what it has accomplished in the various incarnations in South America and what it can and will do for the students who participate in YOURS.  For me personally, it is a chance to build a community with the fellow teachers, students, and their families while using music as the common thread.  Through our work, musical accomplishment is something that can be felt and heard - it's something tangible which resonates for the individual, ensemble, and the community in which they live.  I do find it is a challenge to make sure all elements are always covered - however, it's a good challenge to have and one I am more than happy to portray, whether it's musicianship, comraderie, or simply being a positive role model.  The thing I hope most it that their station in life, along with their own personal well being will continue to grow and improve the more they discover how unique and wonderful they are to their communities, families, school, orchestra, etc.
G: Neeraj, you volunteered an entire year. Would you share with us some significant episodes of your experience? 
N: As far as some experiences - there were many to reference.  I have never really taught before in a musical setting - most of my teaching experience is from the science arena - be it lectures, labs, or recitation periods.  Even though I was a volunteer, I was involved with the students on a regular basis since I came to Hibbard 3 days a week.  I really enjoyed the various opportunities I had to try and run private lessons and sectionals.  I have no conducting experience, so running sectionals was a challenge - but definitely something I would love to try again should the opportunity present itself.  For me, my favorite activities were private lessons - this would involve borrowing a low brass player (or any brass player for that matter) from one of the three ensembles and running through passages they were having difficulty with, or trying different approaches with their pieces so they could understand what was going on thematically as well as the impression it had on them.  Of course, this varies in degree with the level of the student's abilities.  For the younger kids, we would work on basic fundamentals of getting a good sound and reading rhythms as well as singing the pitches to get an early idea of musical lines and phrases.  With the intermediate students, I would also cover fundamentals, but also allowing a little more character into their playing - shaping tonal qualities, and really getting into the character of their part.  We would also work on technical exercises that pertained to the music they were playing.  The advanced players would get a full battery of fundamentals, solo playing, and musicality exercises.  We would also work on the more difficult passages within pieces as well.  I would often try to get parts from the bassoons or cellos - the trombone parts were sometimes a little bare and it allowed the player, in this case, Luis, to hear different parts of the piece and also develop some of the nuances inherent in those parts.  Overall, most of the activities were about developing a relationship with the students so that they know they would feel natural talking about different musical concepts.  Naturally, they would also feel comfortable discussing what's going on in their own lives.  If anything, that would be the part I enjoyed the most. As I mentioned earlier, teaching sectionals was more of a challenge - instead of the more intimate setting of private lessons, there were more variables to be aware of.  All the kids have to be engaged - so working parts within the different sections can be tough - but I learned that shortening the amount of rest or breaks between passages allowed us to stay focused and let the kids work on their playing while bolstering self-confidence.  Of course, not everyone is always on board, but that just takes a little work in either changing the approach, changing the method, or getting help from the other faculty members to help you when there is difficulty.  For me, the end result (mastery of the piece ) is always important, but so is involvement from all of the individuals in the ensemble.

-Giulia Molteni 

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Giulia's Fourth Day - Hibbard Elementary and the High School Internship Workshop

Our guest blogger and volunteer from Italy, Giulia Molteni, reflects on her 4th day with the YOURS Project:


Today I came in contact with the other side of the YOURS Project: The program at Hibbard Elementary School. 
This week is going to be really interesting: I'll join the YOURS Project High School Internship Workshop, an intensive training course for high school students. The students participating in the internship have all been involved with the YOURS Project at either Monroe or Hibbard elementary. This important experience will help them become student leaders within the YOURS Project, teaching them how to share their skills with the younger student body.  

Sylvia Carlson, the Nucleo Director at Hibbard, explained to me that it's the first time that a program of this kind is becoming a part of YOURS. Some of these high school students have previous experiences as teachers, but they have never been involved in an official teaching program such as this. In fact, the YOURS Project interns will be asked to take part in the program as full teachers, receiving training and experience instructing sectionals, teaching private lessons, assisting ensemble directors, and rehearsing and performing with the orchestra.  
This experience is going to be really challenging not only for them but also for the teaching staff, consisting of energetic and dedicated individuals: Andrea Grinberg (Cello Coach and Strings Instructor for the Beginning Orchestra), Brett Benteler (Double Bass Coach, Low Strings Instructor, and intermediate orchestra conductor) Javier Saume-Mazzei (Percussion Teacher) and Ben Bolter (Strings Instructor and Conductor of the Advanced Orchestra).  

Today I was really happy and grateful to have joined a group of people so collaborative and united by the same goals and the same enthusiasm. In one room, there were people of different ages, coming from different cultural backgrounds, different countries, but all of them speaking a common and universal language: MUSIC.Thinking about the competitive world in which we live, I'd like to share with you all a personal thought: when you're part of a group, sometimes it doesn't matter if you're the best. The most important thing is to be someone who contributes to the group as a whole, and who is happy being part of something bigger than oneself. 

Giulia Molteni

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Giulia's Third Day - Ivana Interview

Our guest blogger and volunteer from Italy, Giulia Molteni, reflects on her 3rd day with the YOURS Project:


Having so enjoyed yesterday's strings lesson, I felt it would be interesting to delve deeper into Ivana Dudnik teaching experience with the YOURS Project. So I asked her some questions I want to share with you.  
Giulia: Ivana, when did you come to Chicago and how was your first experience with YOURS Project?   
Ivana: Well, I arrived in January 2011, invited by Deborah Wanderly dos Santos, one of the founders of the program. At first I had mixed feelings and I was curious to understand how to translate El Sistema-inspired programs in the American culture.   
G: Having worked with the El Sistema-inspired program in Brazil, which aspects of this philosophy did you feel were important to bring here?   
I: Everywhere you bring an El Sistema-inspired methodology you must be clearly aware that you're goal is to change the life of these kids and let them become better people. You must help them develop a sense of responsibility.   
G: Taking part in an orchestral program is enriching. However it's not always easy to join a new group and play together. How do you help the kids through the music?   
I: We help them by combining the technical aspects a student needs to improve musically with the social skills a student needs to develop personally - giving them a link between what they do in the class and their real life   
G: To be enrolled in an orchestra requires commitment. Throughout your experience, have you observed any significant change in the way kids approach this project?   
I: Actually I had a strong experience in Bahia, Brazil. I had a class of "relaxed" students not used to coming to class on time. After six months and a lot of reinforcement I noticed almost 95% of them being present at the scheduled times. The same happened here, when I taught morning classes. At first, the lessons were attended by only five kids. Soon, they developed a sense of responsibility and understood the importance of participating they were present every morning!   
Last but not least, have you ever thought that an everyday orange bucket could be used as a tool to drill musical skills? That's what I saw this afternoon when I joined the percussion class!Peter, an engaging percussionist, taught students an introductory lesson, giving a boost to both imitating the rhythms he proposed and inventing new rhythmic combinations. If any overlapping rhythms or funny counterpoint came out, the goal would to do so in time! At first it wasn't easy, but the children and I really enjoyed playing together.  
At any time of day, when we get bored or we are in a funk let's cheer ourselves up by listening to the rhythms of our body and just play whatever is handy! 
-Giulia Molteni

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Giulia's Second Day - String Class

Our guest blogger and volunteer from Italy, Giulia Molteni, reflects on her 2nd day with the YOURS Project:


Today, my exciting second day at Monroe Elementary School, I took part in the string classes. What a wonderful experience! 
I observed Ivana Dudnik, a Brazilian musician who came to Chicago having worked many years with the El Sistema-inspired program in Brazil, Neojiba. Ivana worked with two groups divided by age: the first group had kids in 6th grade and below, while the second group was made up of 7th and 8th grade students.I really enjoyed her teaching method and I found it productive: before starting to play, pay attention to the body, sit tall like a hero and concentrate on what one is doing. These fundamentals are necessary to become real performers and as the weeks go by by I'm sure they'll get used to them!I was also fascinated by some useful games Ivana proposed to work on the fingers independence and flexibility, necessary to use the bow properly to produce each kind of articulation. I saw these young players have a lot of fun moving fingers up and down through the bow like a spider, or rotating the wrist like the wind shield wipers of a car.Can all these be an effective teaching tools? Sure, and it's also very entertaining!
-Giulia Molteni 

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Introducing Giulia and the First Day of School!

I'd like to introduce Giulia Molteni!

Giulia comes to us from outside Milan, Italy, and she has joined us in Chicago specifically to work with the YOURS Project. She has a theory and piano background, having worked in music therapy programs in Italy with youth and adults. She has come to our country because she is interested in learning and observing how an El Sistema-inspired program in the United States works with youth. Out of all the great programs growing in the USA, she chose to spend time with us, here at the YOURS Project! We are honored and so excited to have her with us this month.

Giulia will be joining me as a guest blogger for the next few weeks, as I have asked her to share her thoughts on the program each day she is here. Below is her beautiful post about her first day with the program:

Tuesday 9/4 

Today the YOURS PROJECT at Monroe Elementary School in Chicago has finally started off! Tom Madeja, the Nucleo Director of this amazing Project, warmly welcomed both the teachers and the students, sharing with them his enthusiasm and expectations for the new school year. 
The teaching staff consists of young and very energetic people: Aryiole Frost is the Children's Orchestra Conductor, Ivana Dudnik will be working with the strings students, Jessica Pearce will teach the brass students, Peter Tashjian will be working with the percussion players, and Erendira Izguerra will help teach violin.  
As a volunteer, I'm so happy to join this project for this month and I feel it is important that the experiences of these children be told!  
I strongly believe that everybody always has something special to share with others and music really helps everyone to talk about themselves and their experiences. So, as Tom outlined today, a course of music is not just a matter of graduating, but above all a way of being better people.
My hope is that a daily report about the children will make us all be amazed by the healing power of music.
YOURS PROJECT of Chicago, thank you for your important mission!
-Giulia Molteni

New Beginnings

Hi Everyone!

A lot has happened since I last posted. 
Some highlights: 

  • The Fellows returned from Venezuela, 
  • we presented the business plan we had created for the Youth Orchestra of the Lower 9th Ward,
  • and we, the 3rd class of Sistema Fellows (formerly Abreu Fellows) graduated!

The work we did for YOL9W was grounded in the community mapping I had done in the fall, outlined in this blog! Read some of my previous posts from October and November 2011 to find out more!

When the Fellows graduated, we each spoke a little about our experience in the Fellowship. I spoke about shaping your own future, and how the fellowship had given me the permission and the tools to craft my own path. I used this example of penmanship, created by myself when I was 9, to illustrate that point:

Most people think that all they are is all they've been. 

We are more than the sum of our experiences. We can choose to create new parts of ourselves, and new paths for us to travel in the future. Which brings me to my next announcement:

I am now the Director of the 
People's Music School'S YOURS Project in Chicago!

Check out this video that WTTW, Chicago's local PBS affiliate, did on the YOURS Project recently: YOURS Project | Chicago Tonight | WTTW

I visited this program over Thanksgiving, and was enamored with all the great work I saw while I was there. At that point, I had no idea it would even be a possibility for me to join the project. I am so excited to join the family. I began working with YOURS in June, listening and learning from everyone working with and within the project. After the successful completion of a month-long summer program, I spent the remaining summer working with the directors of our two nucleos dreaming and planning. Today is the day we've dreamed and planned for! Our nucleo at Monroe Elementary has launched! 

Today was the first day of the school year for the YOURS Project, and I am excited. I'm excited for the staff, for the schools, for the participants. I'm excited for the music and I'm excited for the growth. I will begin updating this blog regularly again, so follow along, it's going to be an adventure!