Part of developing El Sistema in the United States involves exploring its endless destinations. Here is one way El-Sistema has been implemented in the public-school system in Troy, Michigan.
The music students at Troy High School (my alma mater) are as privileged as any. The financial and moral support around them is remarkable and contributes to successful performances and educational opportunities for thousands of students. Recent trips have included a 2004 concert at Carnegie Hall, multiple performances at the MME conference, and invitations to London, Orlando, San Antonio, London, and Chicago. Just this past year, the bands were privileged to work with guest conductors, H. Robert Reynolds and Leonard Slaktin. However, with the same routine year after year, I recently posed the following question to my former band director:
So now what? The band has artistically accomplished all the highest ratings and awards. What more can we offer then?
As Mr. Nutting (director of bands) and I began to share our plans for the upcoming year, he started listing repertoire and destinations, while I started introducing the El-Sistema philosophy. Before long, the “so, what now?” question came up. Slowly, we began to list ways the band program at Troy High could use its assets to serve their local community, in ways other than their previous routine of concerts and festivals. After two days of contemplation, I got a phone call from my former band director, and the news was remarkable.
When the phone rang, and the first thing I heard was “we are going to implement a portion of the El Sistema philosophy next year, and call it ‘takin it to the streets’” He mentioned how the bands were going to share their music with the community by running numerous chamber ensembles to send out and play wherever they could (local businesses, hospitals, retirement communities, etc). On top of that, Mr. Nutting mentioned that he was going to start a relationship with a nearby inner city school by adopting a fellow music program, raising finances for new instruments, while encouraging his students to interact with their peers from different backgrounds.
Luckily, in Troy, the trust built into the program allows people to understand that change is not always a bad thing. Within two days, the parent’s approval was in, and the rumblings amongst the students were those of eagerness.
And just like that, an elite public-school music program is about to abandon its yearly routine, which has brought it much acclaim, to give back to its community and simultaneously help those who are less fortunate. It is now no secret, that El Sistema can be adapted to many communities via numerous methods. Updates from Troy to come soon! (troyhighband.org)
Students in the Troy High Symphonic Band rehearse the final movement of Grainger's Lincolnshire Posy