Perspectives on El Sistema

Exploring El Sistema - Tue, 2014-02-25 12:02
Perspectives on El Sistema has been prepared by the 2014 Class of Sistema Fellows at New England Conservatory following our month-long residency in Venezuela in November-December 2013. It has been specifically written in response to a request from Dr. Jose Antonio Abreu for the Sistema Fellows Program to provide El... Sistema Fellows Program

ICAN visit

Exploring El Sistema - Tue, 2014-02-25 11:53
Photos by Eriel Huang Enjoying one additional day in the Southern California sunshine, the Sistema Fellows traveled up the coast to Santa Barbara on Sunday to visit the Incredible Children's Art Network, where Xochitl Tafoya (Sistema Fellow '13) is the Director of ICAN's three-year-old El Sistema-inspired Music Program. Sistema Fellows Program

Sistema Fellows in LA, Part 2

Exploring El Sistema - Tue, 2014-02-25 11:41
Thirty of the fifty Sistema Fellows were in LA last week, and we took advantage of the opportunity to gather for a reunion dinner following the conclusion of the Take A Stand conference. Sistema Fellows Program

Early Music Meets the 21st Century

CE Blog - Tue, 2014-02-25 10:47

NEC’s School of Continuing Education Professional Studies Certificate candidate Amy Kao, gave her final recital on Saturday February 22, 2014 in Brown Hall.   Amy performed works by Froberger, Handel, Bach and Scarlatti on a 1987 custom built French double-manual harpsichord  by Allan Winkler.  The harpsichord is based on the work of the Parisian builder Francois Blanchet II and was built here in Boston.

What made this recital even more interesting was that Amy’s entire performance was done without sheet music.  Instead, she chose to use a tablet computer with a foot pedal mechanism to turn the pages of the music which had been scanned into the tablet computer.

A special congratulations to Amy on a great performance and we wish her all the best in the next stage of her musical journey!

      NEC School of Professional Studies Certificate Graduate Amy Kao

Early music meets the 21st century


French double-manual harpsichord by Allan Winkler (notice the tablet computer and foot pedals)

Amy Kao pictured with NEC Faculty John Gibbons (center) and Allan Winkler (craftsman of harpsichord).



Say Yes to Assess: A Starting Point for Assessment

Exploring El Sistema - Thu, 2014-02-20 11:06
Andrea Landin and Elaine Sandoval, Sistema Fellows '13, hosted a discussion of evaluation and assessment at Take A Stand on Friday, February 21. Here is the handout supporting their presentation, and click here for Say Yes to Assess, the paper that the Sistema Fellows Program shared with the field in... Sistema Fellows Program

Sistema Fellows in LA

Exploring El Sistema - Thu, 2014-02-20 10:58
Sistema Fellows and Longy/Bard MAT students gathered for dinner and disucssion on Wednesday evening as a prelude to this week's Take A Stand symposium in Los Angeles. Sistema Fellows Program

A Valentine's Concert

Jose-Luis Estrada - Mon, 2014-02-10 03:29

The ensemble at the Ludwig Symphony festival/concert in Atlanta, GA.

At the Roswell Cultural Center, legendary saxophonist James Houlik from Chicago performed the Atlanta premiere of the Russell Peck “Upward Stream” tenor saxophone concerto. John Lemley of WABE hosted the concert that featured Mexican guest conductor Jose Luis Hernandez-Estrada in Tschaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet Overture-Fantasy. Maestro Ludwig conducted Brahm's Symphony No. 4 and soprano-Megan Mashburn of the Atlanta Opera sang Donizetti’s “Quel guardo il cavaliere” from Don Pasquale and “O luce diquest anima” from Linda di Chamounix. See some behind the scenes footage of Jose Luis' rehearsal for this performance. 

Trickle-down effect

Exploring El Sistema - Thu, 2014-02-06 15:24
As a music educator and administrator, one of the strongest impressions I took away from the experience in Venezuela was the trickle-down effect. From the top down (or perhaps ground up?), to have faith and dedication in the mission while prioritizing the student in every decision. To trust in the... Sistema Fellows Program

A virtual monthly happy hour

Exploring El Sistema - Thu, 2014-02-06 15:15
Excerpted from "If On a Winter's Night, A Traveler": It’s been a very long time since I actively blogged. Now that I’m running Community & Education programs for Orchestra of St. Luke's, the last thing I feel like doing after a long day’s work is sitting at the computer and... Sistema Fellows Program

Coming home

Exploring El Sistema - Thu, 2014-02-06 15:01
I have been deeply blessed with two of life’s greatest joys: traveling and the sharing of music. The adventuring to unexplored places, encountering culture, meeting people, exchanging stories, sharing meals and passing time together: the humble gift of being human. My trip to Venezuela has not been one of earth-shattering,... Sistema Fellows Program

One more Venezuela photo

Exploring El Sistema - Thu, 2014-02-06 14:59
Sistema Fellows Program


Exploring El Sistema - Thu, 2014-02-06 14:58
Social change through music is a lifestyle that requires total devotion. Some circles call El Sistema a religion, and I can cosign approvingly with that notion. Had it been approached as simply a side project to fill up time between gigs, it would not be what it is today. Despite... Sistema Fellows Program

Tamanaco Hotel portrait

Exploring El Sistema - Thu, 2014-02-06 14:45
The fifth class of Sistema Fellows, on their way to meet with Dr. Jose Antonio Abreu (December 2013). Sistema Fellows Program

The Ensemble, February edition

Exploring El Sistema - Thu, 2014-02-06 14:43
The February edition of Tricia Tunstall and Eric Booth's publication chronicling the emerging field of El Sistema-inspired activity in the US and beyond, including short contributions by three current Sistema Fellows, is found here. Sistema Fellows Program

Choirs in Barquisimeto

Exploring El Sistema - Thu, 2014-02-06 14:38
We met up with the teachers that we had observed in the nucleos at the conservatory during the mornings, where they were more than willing to chat about their experience in El Sistema and answer my long list of questions. Aubree and I caught up with Manual, Jorge, Gustavo and... Sistema Fellows Program

New West Symphony Harmony Project

Exploring El Sistema - Thu, 2014-02-06 14:27
It would be false to say that every week was revelatory, that kids always left class with a smile. I think that each student and teacher was tried at more than one point during the semester, and probably asked themselves why they play or teach music. It is because of... Sistema Fellows Program

NEC Professional Studies Certificate

CE Blog - Thu, 2014-01-30 16:29

A special congratulations to our Professional Studies Certificate in Jazz student, Lisa Witwicki, who gave her final recital on Wednesday, January 29, 2014.

We wish her all the best in the next stage of her musical journey!

To learn more about our certificate programs and how we can help you achieve your musical goals please visit our Certificate Programs page.

Evening at the Champs-Élysées

Jose-Luis Estrada - Sun, 2014-01-26 01:15

The ceiling of the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées.

Few musical venues hold an allure as compelling as the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées. It is the very same place where the now legendary riots surrounding the premiere of Stravinsky’s Rite Spring took place. There were fistfights and objects were thrown at the stage. The usually well-mannered French composer Saint-Saëns walked out appalled that the score called for instruments to play in such unusual and deviant ways (expanding the limits of what was thought possible). The choreography did not help either. The Russian dancer Nijinsky infused the scene with jagged dance-like gestures decorated by a morbid primitivism. No wonder the Rite had received such a mixed reception. But this was the year 1913. Paris was entering an era of artistic experimentation pointing towards the avant-garde. How would I love to have been there! As you peruse the space, special attention must be paid to the theater building itself. It is as artful as the work described. The facade is almost too simple. Inspired by the nascent Arts Deco movement of the time, the architecture exudes a fresh perspective and plainness at the same time. (Very unlike the traditional and ornate Parisian trend.) It is always a wonderful experience to visit such historic places and try to immerse oneself in narratives of the olden days. Ironically, no modern works were presented here tonight. I heard both Chopin concerti played by Polish pianist Rafał Blechacz, a very intelligent and serious artist who identifies himself very well with the composer’s music. Chopin, a Romantic, lived in Paris for most of his life but seldom played in large venues such as this. Most of his performances were held in private salons or at homes for highly discerning audiences. For this same reason, the music should always convey a sense of intimacy. Blechacz was able to achieve this effect by being both exceptionally close to the music and completely aware that any unnecessary mannerisms would disrupt its natural simplicity. Chopin’s music can be easily spoiled by over indulging in it, but this was never the case. The inner slow movements sang with a controlled and soulful tone and the orchestral accompaniment led by Trevor Pinnock was sensitive to the nuanced phrasing.  They were memorable. He gave us three encores. Two short preludes by the same composer and a scherzo from an early Beethoven sonata which came as a very pleasant surprise.

Paris, January 2014. 

How to Practice

Penguin - Fri, 2014-01-24 03:10
A Guide to Doing Everything Wrong for the Holidays by ANDREW NISSEN
First-year GD Trombone


If you’re anything like me, the idea of traveling home to family over the winter break is both an exciting and terrifying prospect. What begins as a joyful reunion of kin can quickly turn into an interrogation. “What happened to your nice shoes?” “Have you put on weight?” “When are you going to give me some grandchildren?” The possibilities to antagonize are seemingly endless, and the relief only temporary. A safe haven from the stress of familial interaction lies in private practice. Locking ourselves in a room away from external worry is what we musicians do best. Here follows a guide to maximizing your outcomes while home for the holidays. If you follow these simple suggestions, you will definitely come back to NEC a different musician than when you left. Enjoy your breaks and happy not-practicing, everyone!



1. Make sure to leave at least some, if not all, of your important music in your locker at school. A common rookie mistake is to believe that you need to read music to be able to play it. It’s OK, I’ll forgive your trespass. In fact, I’ve never read a sheet of music in my life! 2. Remember that it’s not necessary to bring all musical accessories with you. In line with point one, you don’t need all that extra junk! Broke a string? Replace it with some copper wire from the hardware store! Need some valve oil? Tears of a jilted lover work fine! You don’t need a tuner and metronome to play well. Do you think Ashlee Simpson uses any of those things? Correct– she doesn’t use them, so neither should you. 3. Practice only between the hours of 10pm-10am. All good bohemian artists waited till sundown to let their creative juices flow. Preferably after consuming a few alcoholic beverages, get your kit out in the dead of night and let it rip. Nothing will receive more of a reaction than your bold statement of purpose as an artisté. 4. Abandon scales, etudes, and technical studies. Are pieces made up of scales or easily identifiable motifs transposed through harmonic modulations? If you answered no, then give yourself a gold star! You don’t need to practice all that other stuff when you’re staring the Bach Cello Suite No. 2 down the barrel and nothing’s gonna stop you. Just dive in and play it through many times at breakneck speed without stopping. You’ll have it under your fingers in minutes. 5. For expert level achievement, leave the
instrument in its case for the entire duration of your stay at home. Most people underestimate the power of the mind. Why, once I learned the entire trombone part to Mahler’s 4th Symphony while also finishing a particularly difficult level in Halo 3. Remember, the best practice is the one done in your head. Your muscles will be very happy when you surprise them with Prokofiev’s Chamber Symphony the week after you come back to school. They’ll let you know!

The Sound of Philosophy

Penguin - Fri, 2014-01-24 03:09
Brigitta Keeps Interrupting “DO-RE-MI” by ISABELLA DAWIS
First-year BM Soprano


In case you haven’t heard, Carrie Underwood recently starred in a live television production of “The Sound of Music.”

♫ “When you know the notes to sing, you can sing most anything–” ♫
[music stops, play grinds to a screeching halt]

Brigitta: I thought you just said ONE WORD FOR EVERY NOTE?
Maria: Yes, I did, Brigitta, that’s right.
Brigitta: But when you sing “a-ny-thing,” you are using up threeee notes on ooooone word. I find that confusing.
Maria: Well, sometimes we do that. Hm. Maybe I should have said, “one syllable for every note.” Thank you for clarifying. Any more questions from the peanut gallery?
Kurt: Please explain to me the vocal mechanism by which phonation is produced.
Gretl: What exactly do you mean by “when you KNOW THE NOTES to sing?” Do you mean, when we know the syllables that go with each note? Or when we know the order in which to put the notes so as to form the song in question? Or when we know the pitches of the C major diatonic scale, excluding all other notes from
different keys and tonal systems?
Marta: What does it mean to KNOW something? How can we separate knowledge from our own selves and our own existence? What is truth?
Maria: I’m so glad you asked. I was hoping you wouldn’t notice that I hadn’t explained these things to you, but you’re cleverer than I thought. Let’s abandon this silly song, and let’s try to find all the gaps in the two-minute music theory lesson I’ve just given you. After I’ve answered all your questions, we can really start at the very beginning, go back a few thousand years to Mesopotamia, and look at cuneiform notation…

…The Von Trapp children never sang again.