I recently curated Understanding El Sistema, a summer institute at NEC that brought together teaching artists and administrators in the Creative Youth Development space for three days of learning, reflecting, and connecting. This experiment was directly informed by my experience directing NEC's Sistema Fellows Program. Since that five-year initiative ended in 2014, part of my long-term work has been to design new opportunities to make the Program's unique curriculum, refined across five classes of Fellows, more broadly accessible.
Two of my earlier initiatives directly inspired by the Sistema Fellows Program curriculum included El Sistema Survey (Investigating Music Education for Social Change) and Building a Community-based Residency, courses through NEC's School of Continuing Education.
photo by Andrew Hurlbut
Along with several photos, here is a selection of positive feedback from the participants. (To be sure, there was also constructive feedback that will help me refine aspects of the institute for next time!)
"I am super inspired, recharged and more committed."
"Tina’s discussion of core values was particularly useful. For the first time, I REALLY understood the point of agreeing on, articulating and sharing the core values regularly."
"I came away from the institute feeling really energized and with a deeper understanding of the work being done by teaching artists in all sorts of El Sistema-inspired programs."
"We are going to incorporate more elements that include Youth Voice into our program and actively work on shaping our organizational culture."
"As I prepare to take on a full-time position at an El Sistema-inspired music program this fall, this workshop was the perfect precursor. It assured me that I’m on the right path and that my mindset, goals, and mission are in alignment."
"I find myself often operating in a vacuum. It was interesting to hear from others doing the same work about their challenges and struggles."
"I enjoyed talking to people in-depth during the Office Hours, and making connections that I will likely keep up after the institute."
"Loved the MYCincinnati case study – nice to see an in-depth example of a program that is working well, hear Laura’s honest descriptions of lessons learned."
"It was an enormously beneficially experience to get to dive deeper into this work with a team from my organization."
Here's a snapshot of the Institute's schedule of activities:
Friday, June 1
9:30 coffee & pastries
10:00 Welcome & Introductions (Heath Marlow)
10:30 El Sistema in Venezuela (Rodrigo Guerrero, Erik Holmgren)
11:30 Case study: MYCincinnati (Laura Jekel)
12:30 Lunch (provided)
1:30 Creative Youth Development (Erik, Rodrigo)
2:30 Case study: Music Haven (Tina Lee Hadari)
3:30 Office Hours #1 (Tina, Laura, Erik, Rodrigo, Heath)
4:30 Mission, Vision, Values (Heath, Tina, Laura)
5:30 Reflective Writing
Saturday, June 2
9:00 Office Hours #2 (Tina, Laura, Heath)
10:00 Participant Sharing, Responses to Day One
11:00 Organizational Culture (Heath, Laura, Tina)
12:00 Lunch (not provided)
1:00 Developing Powerful Voices & Identities (Adeola Oredola)
4:30 Youth Voice Experiments (Laura) or Fundraising Overview (Heath, Tina)
5:30 Reflective Writing
Sunday, June 3
9:00 Office Hours #3 (Tina, Laura, Heath)
10:00 Creative Placemaking/Placekeeping (Laura)
11:00 Aware Engagements and How to Measure Them (Heath)
12:00 Lunch (not provided)
1:00 Thinking about Sustainability (Heath, Tina, Laura)
2:00 Participant Sharing, Responses to Day Two & Day Three
3:00 Wrap Up & Next Steps
To learn more about Understanding El Sistema, visit #MusiciansAtWork at NEC's website.
In 2017, thinking creatively about how to help musiConnects (which serves a specific geographic community) reach a much broader audience of potential supporters, I proposed a series of live-streamed mini-concerts.
Since each of musiConnects' Resident Musicians represents a social network that only partially intersects with the organization's audience base, my hypothesis was that sharing a brief taste of each musician's individual artistry, tied to the musiConnects mission, would introduce potential new supporters to our work, even if they were never able to attend a concert in the flesh.
Because of the organization's focus on Mattapan, a neighborhood well off the beaten track for Boston's classical music aficionados, we position the Resident Musicians' live performances as the vehicle to reach across geographic and cultural barriers. Typically, this happens through performances in living rooms, libraries, and other community venues that are not concert halls. These activities require the availability of all members of an ensemble and plenty of logistical coordination. As the tenth season was winding down, and the staff was running low on energy, I was seeking to find a way to share musiConnects more widely but without additional hassle. The result? A series of live-streamed musical events. Each would be performed by one of the nine Resident Musicians from the comfort of his or her own home (or the musiConnects office).
It was easy. It was fun. It was successful enough in reaching new supporters that we have continued to do it in 2018 and 2019, possibly building a tradition. And it has made me think more about the potential of performing arts organizations using live-streaming as a relationship-building tool. Along with silly and informal promotional videos, I've seen plenty of 20-second snippets of rehearsals begin to show up in communications from organizations. I've also enjoyed seeing musicians being vulnerable enough to share outtakes and behind-the-scenes moments on social media. (Perhaps the Miro Quartet enjoys having a laugh at their own expense--and posting it--more than most?)
It's clear that live-streaming is increasingly relevant to the entirety of the performing arts ecosystem. But is it happening in ways that address how differently the iPhone generation consumes live performance? The NightCaps Series is only one way to begin to explore this opportunity, and I'm looking forward to further and more rigorous experimentation.
Relatedly, to understand where we may be headed, it's worth reading this story in The New Yorker about a teen drama designed to unfold across time on social media platforms--rather than on TV.
Here I am in May 2017, performing Bach in the direction of an iPhone taped to a music stand. Even though I'm not one of the Resident Musicians (I'm a board member), I wanted to put my money where my mouth was since I had proposed the idea.
musiConnects' Resident Musicians get the credit for coming up with the concept of pairing a favorite nightcap with each performance, leading to naming this the "NightCap Streaming Series." Each performance is casual, low tech, and intimate. There is a low pressure request for support (through the link provided on the organization's FaceBook page), but a donation is not a barrier for enjoying the free online performance. Ideally, the fundraising component serves largely to encourage participation, and the dollar goal reflects this. For instance, a recent NightCap Streaming Series fundraising goal was $750 to purchase music stands for students, and we accomplished that goal with ease.
Resident Musicians broadcasting their performance from the musiConnects studio in Roslindale, MA.
June 17, 2018, 9 pm EST: playing duets in my living room with Jacques Lee Wood, Resident Musician.
June 17, 2018, 6 pm PST: Family friends watching our performance at the dinner table in Berkeley, CA.
March 31, 2019: Reprise of cello duets, this time in Jacques' living room.
My colleague Robert Labaree retired this month after 34 years at NEC. Officially, he is categorized as an ethnomusicologist and performer specializing in Turkish music, and a long-serving Music History faculty member. Exemplifying the entrepreneurial spirit of #MusiciansAtWork, he founded NEC's Intercultural Institute in 1993, taking the initiative to respond to an opportunity and create something of value to his community.
I never experienced Bob in his official teaching or performing capacities. For me, he represents something else: a community-minded colleague whose thirst for questioning the status quo coupled with an appetite for collective and inclusive action for positive change. He sees NEC's campus as a public square, in which to bring together intellectually curious people for wide-ranging conversations. He appreciates that members of NEC's community may come from different places and think in divergent ways, but ultimately, each of us share a common investment in better understanding a musician's place in contemporary society in order to prepare NEC students--and the institution itself--to face an uncertain future in the 21st Century.
Several years ago, sensing global shifts with local implications, Bob wrote an essay that led him to create Music in 2050, a discussion group comprised of NEC faculty, staff, and, when possible, students. This group grew into a regularly-convening grassroots community with a mission of "exploring the role of music, musician, and music education in a drastically changing world." Being part of this informal community, and getting to spend time in conversation with Bob, has been one of the highlights of my time at NEC.
When I reflect on the time that I've had the privilege of spending with Bob over four and a half years, I'm grateful for what he modeled for me as a veteran member of the NEC community. I'm inspired by his
-deep respect and care for NEC (the institution, its culture, and its people)
-clarity of thinking (and writing) and seemingly unending curiosity to learn more
-desire to look for ideas outside of the institution's walls (figuratively and literally)
-urgency to make positive change happen, especially for future generations of musicians
-inclusive and openhearted nature exemplified in inviting students and staff join faculty in thoughtful conversation
-energized engagement with challenging ideas, his willingness to ask tough questions, and not be fazed by running into the unknowable or unanswerable
-optimism about our capacity to be better, to do good, and to adapt
-genuine excitement about ideas generated by young people, and their experimental initiatives
Bob has been the most inspiring and inspired colleague that I could ask for. I have personally benefited immensely from our relationship. Thankfully, he will continue to teach at least one Music History course next academic year. That's good news for the NEC community, because we all need him. Bob's presence on campus means that we all benefit.
Last month, while preparing for my new Fundraising for Musicians course through NEC's School of Continuing Education, I found myself thinking about how one might create a fundraising habit of mind in a music school undergraduate.
For a young musician, building a career on the strength of a carefully cultivated web of relationships is becoming increasingly essential in today's gig economy. Fundraising is a natural outgrowth of this focus on strategic relationship building. From my days at Community MusicWorks, I like to refer to this habit of mind that prioritizes seeking out and building relationships as Resource Development Mindset.
If I were designing a music school's curriculum for Resource Development Mindset, I don't think I would necessarily seek to add a specific class. At least at NEC, undergrads already have a packed course load and there is pressure to find enough time to practice. Rather, I'd look for creative ways to embed the development of this mindset into existing undergraduate life, piggybacking on activities that are already accepted as part of the school's culture.
For instance, some specifics ways that I could imagine integrating strategic relationship building into the everyday life of a conservatory student:
1. Build a database. At orientation, each student receives a small notebook with which to begin building their personal database (students, faculty, staff, audience members). Going forward, each new person they meet is documented, eventually added into a simple Excel database. Students are required to capture at least a name and an email address, along with one or more distinguishing personal details.
2. Practice networking. Students begin practicing networking at post-recital receptions and during intermission at BSO concerts. A concert provides an excellent opportunity to mingle with strangers and strike up a conversation. The student's goal is connecting with two new people per event (bonus points awarded if they are non-musicians).
3. Hone a message. Each student is supported by a faculty member to draft an artist statement and core values that they want to build their career around. This statement will evolve over time, of course, but I like the idea of beginning pre-professional training with a clear sense of longer-term purpose. Students display their statements and core values on the inside of their instrument cases so they are visible every day, including to their peers and teachers.
4. Key supporters. Every student is tasked with recruiting a three-member advisory group of adults who have professional careers (not only in music) and who care about them (but are not their parents). They are required to schedule a check-in conversation with these mentors every six months for feedback and career development advice, based on their artist statement and core values.
5. Effective communication. Students are required to produce an e-newsletter every semester about their experience as a musician. Could be serious, could be humorous. As long as it is personal. While it might include dates of upcoming performances, the newsletter doesn't need to contain a lot of information. Rather, it is intended to be a way to focus on maintaining (or increasing) a sense of empathic connection between an artist and his/her audience base (i.e. everyone who gets added to the little notebook).
These are initial ideas. Please feel free to add your own in the Comments section.
As artists, as arts organizations, as the arts sector, what are our questions about how a rapidly changing world will affect us? It's clear to me that we don't have answers, but shouldn't we at least be making sure that our questions are out there, ready to be vigorously explored? For instance,
1. How will changing demographics and a majority minority society influence us? Specifically, what's our plan to appeal to the increasing cultural power of Asian, African, Latin economies?
It's a shame that The Arts as an industry doesn't have the capacity to invest in research and development. The end of Createquity, due to lack of available funding after a successful ten-year run, is a stark example of the lack of ability to focus attention on the big and important questions. Not even figuring out the answers, mind you. I'll be happy with more questions. It's a start.
Sharing project documentation and examples of student thinking, and my own.