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: jonathangovias.com/2012/02/16/el-sistema-in-canada-2012 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!