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The Arts and Learning: Symphonies and Schools

Mädchen spielt GeigeThe school year is winding down, but learning goes on all the time, if we’re alert and alive to the possibilities. In the next few weeks, I’m going to share ways that various arts organizations are reaching out to kids in all sorts of situations, to further their learning experiences.

The arts can help children take the many things they are learning and give them a framework. Involvement in some aspect of the arts has even been proven to help children learn in other areas of their lives as well.

An article at “edutopia” entitled Why Arts Education is Crucial, and Who’s Doing it Best states that “Involvement in the arts is associated with gains in math, reading, cognitive ability, critical thinking, and verbal skill. Arts learning can also improve motivation, concentration, confidence, and teamwork.” If I needed a further reason to champion the arts, this would do it.

Today, we’re going behind the scenes of some symphony orchestras — not to see how they tune their instruments, or how long they rehearse, but to see how they are working to enhance the educational experience of children who otherwise would have very little exposure to symphony music.

I want to introduce you to three very different Symphony Orchestras with different projects but a common goal — to enhance the lives and the education of children through music.

The first is the Regina Symphony Orchestra (RSO) in Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada. A few years ago, they initiated the Piapot Project of the Regina Symphony Orchestra. Payepot School is a small school on a First Nations (Native Canadian) reserve near Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada. The Piapot Project provided violin lessons for some of the children of the school — taught by the RSO’s current concertmaster; attendance at symphony concerts including interaction with the musicians, and a special Piapot Festival in May. Most recently, they have started a similar project in Regina’s inner city, The Inner City Orchestra Project. The symphony also has other successful programs that bring music to kids who wouldn’t have much — if any — experience with symphony music otherwise. I have no doubt that these programs enhance the entire life experience of these children.

The second, El Sistema, is sending soundwaves out from the far reaches of Venezuela where it began, into the world to touch the lives of children and youth in North America and elsewhere. Quoting from the El Sistema USA website, “33 years ago in a parking garage in Caracas, Dr. José Antonio Abreu gathered together 11 children to play music. El Sistema was born. It now teaches music to 300,000 of Venezuela’s poorest children, demonstrating the power of ensemble music to dramatically change the life trajectory of hundreds of thousands of a nation’s youth while transforming the communities around them.” And, in another quote from the same website, about the program in Venezuela, “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.”

The conductor of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Gustavo Dudamel, a Venezuelan, is both a product of El Sistema, and was an integral part of its development. His appointment to the LAPhil has heightened awareness of this incredible program — or should I say movement. El Sistema has a presence and an influence in kids’ lives in over 25 countries around the world, including my own country, Canada. If you are interested, a simple search of the words el sistema and your country’s name will tell you if the movement has reached your homeland.

The third symphony project I want to highlight is the Music in the Schools program of the Minnesota Sinfonia, based in the Twin Cities, Minneapolis – St. Paul. The Sinfonia is unique in that it is a professional symphony orchestra which offers all its concerts free to anyone who wishes to attend, choosing venues that are accessible to a wide range of people. The Music in the Schools program not only takes music to kids in inner city schools, but uses music to teach subjects as wide ranging as literature, math and science, in a specifically designed curriculum.

Bravo to these orchestras for their work in bringing music to all!

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