The past month in the fellowship has been spectacular.
Some of what I've learned:
There are more nuances to each situation than initially meets the eye
The era of the "Arts for Arts Sake" is over. We need to focus on the Arts for many sakes
Make a conscious decision about how you behave under stress
Orient your staff to the organization, not just their jobs
It's a leader's job to create something that does not exist
Reach out to people who have inspired you in the past.
The highlights of what has happened:
Ben Zander invited us to the Boston Philharmonic Concert and we watched an exhilarating performance of Nielsen's Fourth Symphony. After the concert, we were introduced to Roz Zander and Ilya Kaler, who amazed us with his rendition of the Tchaikovsky Concerto.
The Fellows presented an interactive seminar at Harvard on El-Sistema principals. The presentation culminated in everyone singing collectively in a large rotunda in Cambridge.
In my spare time, I finished my softball season, went whale-watching, saw Christiaan perform Jake Heggie's Three Decembers, ate amazing Indian food at the Woodcock's, got visits from Natalie, Kate, and Monish, and even went out on a date.
Our trip to New York included a Venezuelan dinner at Jamie Bernstein’s aparetment. (Leonard’s daughter), the Tigers beating the Yankees in game 5, a meeting with the League of American Orchestras, time spent at the Corona Project with Alvaro and Jennifer, and a UW reunion with Leelanee, Joe, Matt, and Jenny. (somehow only the guys got into the photo)
Mentoring and conducting at the Boston Arts Academy led to an unexpected trip to Symphony Hall to watch Yo Yo Ma rehearse the Dvorak Concerto.
After the rehearsal Mr. Ma and Maestro Mena came upstairs to spend half an hour with all of us. Their humility reminded me how the most inspirational people can also be the most grounded.
The NEC brass ensemble performed the first movement of Mahler’s Fifth Symphony on an innovative concert dubbed Mahler Remixed, organized by the fine staff of the Entrepreneurial Music Department.
I also spent numerous days observing and teaching at the Conservatory Lab Charter School with Rebecca Levi, David Malek, and their awesome teaching artists. A few weeks ago, we were joined by special guest and former fellow Lorrie Heagy, all the way from Juneau, Alaska.
Now, off to Texas for two weeks!!
The combination of the fellowship, the fellows, and the city of Boston is bringing with it more new experiences than I could have imagined.
Seminars, rooted in both answering and proposing questions have been coupled with a stunning mix of personalities in the room, all inevitably with their learning hats on. From day 1 of orientation, our bonding was inevitable. Boston is a remarkable city, embracing the culture of conversation under any circumstance. David’s ability to create relationships with strangers has rubbed off on me. I must proceed with this new found spontaneity with caution, as the feeling of being invincible when I am around the fellows can also be dangerous. But the group’s diverse experiences are giving me nine new lenses from which to view life. I could write on my colleagues forever, but instead, I will focus on some of the experiences the past few weeks have brought, all while knowing that these moments would mean significantly less to me if not for both old and new friends who shared them with me.
Walking around Boston for hours a day (usually with Julie) was the perfect way to make a new home.
I finally had dinner with John Mackey, who also recently moved to the area. I got to ask him the hundred questions that were on my mind. Invitations to eat Indian food with President Woodcock and Benjamin Zander are next.
Speaking of Ben, his class on Fridays was remarkable-- a hybrid of spiritual revival and artistic exploration.
I joined the Longwood Symphony, an orchestra comprised almost entirely of medical professionals. The funds for the concerts go back into various medical organizations—a.k.a. community service through music. I wonder if that’s relevant to El-Sistema
Visited Community Music Works in Rhode Island last week. Coupled with a room full of new colleagues was an environment that felt like a home. Good food initiated great conversation. No elite status about it.
Rehearsals and meetings at NEC are nothing like anything I have experienced. The performing level is stunning, (a word I stole from Erik Holmgren, our fearless leader) but so is the creativity in activities the students engage in. I ran into a sitar major a few weeks ago—at NEC? Go figure.
Softball on Sundays (our team is called Funday Sunday) is the single greatest stress relief at the end of highly eventful weeks.
Having lifelong friends like John, Jen, Natalie, Christian, Clarie, Kriti and Priti near Boston reminds me daily of who I am and where I came from.
I started tutoring a guy I met on Craigslist in English. Totally random. Totally awesome. And a total heads-up that volunteer work is still awfully fulfilling.
My roommates Jeff and Katie have a cat named Olivia, and she gets pampered by me, bigtime.
Public speaking, learning Spanish, and going running are getting me out of my comfort zone. Perfect.
An epic night in Cambridge culminated in singing Barbershop quartets on the street at 1am with 15 random strangers who I met minutes before.
The fellows are leading a project inspired JR’s TED Prize wish and its probably the coolest thing I’ve ever been a part of.
Ben Zander said it best yesterday: Stop thinking about your life as a biography, and start thinking about it as possibility. Truly, the past few weeks have been just that.
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
H. Robert Reynolds once said, to be a successful musician, you must love music, but you must really love people. With the prominence of technology expanding, the quality of human interaction seems to be dwindling: We seem to be spending more time doing everything else and less time with each other.
That is where music comes in...
Music education brings people together. Its experiences are encompassed by endless collaborations; its priorities are to help our youth explore both the resources of their minds and the innate feelings of their hearts. This develops social independence, using music as a means to an end.
El Sistema is a philosophy that is dedicated to giving back to society by providing under-deserved students an opportunity to make positive impacts on their community while constantly savoring their journey rather than their destination.
As I begin my tenure as an Abreu Fellow, I am anxious to bringing social change to our country using music as a medium. I know that in the process, my love for people and music will lead to fulfillment in my own life as well. It’s time to see where this time spent together takes us…..
From 2013 on, this blog will serve as a photo-blog encompassing students, friends, family, and other fun life events!