NEC Prep Piano Tour 2016! Ready for take off from...

Preparatory School - Sun, 2016-07-03 06:41

NEC Prep Piano Tour 2016! Ready for take off from Berlin>Paris>Boston ! It has been an amazing trip! #necprepontour #necprep #germany #piano (at Berlin Tegel TXL International Airport)

NEC Prep Piano Tour 2016! Ready for take off from...

Preparatory School - Sun, 2016-07-03 06:40

NEC Prep Piano Tour 2016! Ready for take off from Berlin>Paris>Boston ! It has been an amazing trip! #necprepontour #necprep #germany #piano (at Berlin Tegel TXL International Airport)

NEC Prep Piano Tour 2016! Berlin Wall #necprepontour #necprep...

Preparatory School - Sun, 2016-07-03 00:50

NEC Prep Piano Tour 2016! Berlin Wall #necprepontour #necprep #piano #germany #berlin (at Berlin Wall)

NEC Prep Piano Tour 2016! Berlin Wall “no man’s...

Preparatory School - Sun, 2016-07-03 00:47

NEC Prep Piano Tour 2016! Berlin Wall “no man’s land” corridor. #necprepontour #necprep #piano #germany #berlin (at Berlin, Germany)

NEC Prep Piano Tour 2016! Final dinner of the tour together !...

Preparatory School - Sun, 2016-07-03 00:45

NEC Prep Piano Tour 2016! Final dinner of the tour together ! #necprepontour #necprep #piano #germany (at Berlin, Germany)

NEC Prep Piano Tour 2016! Happy Birthday Niklas!!! Go...

Preparatory School - Sun, 2016-07-03 00:29

NEC Prep Piano Tour 2016! Happy Birthday Niklas!!! Go Germany!!#necprepontour #necprep #berlin #piano #germany (at Berlin, Germany)

NEC Prep Piano Tour 2016! #necprepontour #necprep #germany...

Preparatory School - Sun, 2016-07-03 00:25

NEC Prep Piano Tour 2016! #necprepontour #necprep #germany #piano #berlin (at Berlin, Germany)

NEC Prep Piano Tour 2016 ! #necprepontour #necprep #germany...

Preparatory School - Sun, 2016-07-03 00:20

NEC Prep Piano Tour 2016 ! #necprepontour #necprep #germany #piano #berlin (at Berlin, Germany)

Piano Tour 2016! We had so much fun these past 9 days!! What a...

Preparatory School - Sat, 2016-07-02 20:21

Piano Tour 2016! We had so much fun these past 9 days!! What a great way to end the final night celebrating Niklas’ bday here at the hotel and having our own party for the Germany-Italia game- Go Germany!! Wishing for a safe and smooth traveling tomorrow ! (at Arcadia Hotel Berlin)

NEC Prep Piano Tour 2016! Having fun in the Massive (5floors!)...

Preparatory School - Sat, 2016-07-02 07:34

A video posted by NEC Prep (@nec_prep) on Jul 2, 2016 at 4:34am PDT

NEC Prep Piano Tour 2016! Having fun in the Massive (5floors!) Dussmann music and sheet music shop here in Berlin! (at Berlin, Germany)

NEC Prep Piano Tour 2016 at Konzerthaus Berlin!!! #necprepontour...

Preparatory School - Sat, 2016-07-02 07:31

NEC Prep Piano Tour 2016 at Konzerthaus Berlin!!! #necprepontour #necprep #piano #berlin

Sistema Tulsa Faculty to Hone Skills at Carnegie Hall 

Jose-Luis Estrada - Sat, 2016-07-02 01:42


Tulsa, OK – July 1, 2016 

Sistema Tulsa Faculty to Hone Skills at Carnegie Hall 

Music teachers selected to attend a Music Educator’s Workshop in New York City 

Sistema Tulsa music educators will travel to New York City and hone their skills as part of Carnegie Hall’s prestigious 2016 Music Educator’s Workshop. The Music Educators Workshop is a community of ensemble directors from around the country who come together to learn from each other and from top-notch guest faculty, to attend concerts at Carnegie Hall, and to explore their important role as purveyors of musicality and creativity. 

The music workshop will be focused on studying and choosing effective literature and repertoire to motivate students and awaken their artistic sensibilities. 

Four teachers, including Sistema Tulsa Director Jose Luis Hernandez, will be in residence learning at the Resnick Education Wing at Carnegie Hall from July 13-16. Hernandez said that this opportunity will bring the faculty closer together and provide them with skills that they can utilize in Sistema Tulsa rehearsals and in their own school contexts. Best of all, this opportunity is free of cost to them. “This is a win-win for our program and our schools, he said, “teachers will bring back new tools and knowledge that will benefit Sistema Tulsa students and many more throughout our local public school system.” 

Kelsey Rooney, a General Music teacher at Grissom Elementary and Lead Teacher for Sistema Tulsa said, “I hope to become a better teacher at this workshop so that I can continue to teach and inspire students to the best of my ability.” 

Teachers attending: Amy Clark (Chouteau Elementary), Lauren Harper (Holland Hall), Greg Dorst (private studio), Kelsey Rooney (Grissom Elementary) 


Yo-Yo Ma on Intonation, Practice, and the Role of Music in Our Lives

Cello Bello Blog - Tue, 2016-06-28 11:33

Reprinted from Strings Magazine, September 17 2015

By Martin Steinberg:

A cellist walks on a beach and picks up a bottle. A genie pops out and says, “I give you two wishes.” 

The cellist says: “Wow, I’d like to have world peace.” 

The genie thinks for a second and says, 

“That’s too hard! What’s your second wish?”

The cellist says, “Well, I’m turning 60 and I want to play in tune.” 

The genie thinks for a second and says, “What was your first wish again?” 

Musicians, take heart. That joke was told by the cellist Yo-Yo Ma during an interview ahead of his 60th birthday on Oct. 7. After 55 years of playing, yes, even Yo-Yo Ma needs to practice.

“What all string players have in common is that if we don’t play for awhile, we actually start from ground zero,” Ma says. Ma was four when he started the cello.

At seven, he was performing with his big sister for an audience that included two US presidents. Now nearing his milestone birthday, he’s ever youthful, always learning, asking questions, constantly building bridges.

And striving for perfection.

Despite all his achievements—more than 100 CDs, 18 Grammy Awards, and other honors, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the National Medal of Arts—he’s going full tilt toward more accomplishments.

In the weeks before his birthday, Ma’s agenda was packed. At Tanglewood, his scheduled performances included all three Brahms trios with Emanuel Ax and Leonidas Kavakos and the six Beethoven cello sonatas with Ax. That was followed by a six-country European tour with Andris Nelsons and the Boston Symphony, featuring Strauss Don Quixote in advance of next year’s 400th anniversary of Cervantes’ death. At the London Proms, he was scheduled to play all six Bach Cello Suites in one night. In September, his new album, Songs from the Arc of Life (Sony Masterworks), with long-time accompanist Kathryn Stott on piano, was to be released, as was a documentary focusing on musicians in his Silk Road Ensemble—a collective of musicians, composers, visual artists, and more that explores Eurasian culture.

The journey began in 1955 in Paris, where Ma was born to immigrant Chinese musician parents. His sister, Yeou-Cheng Ma—a violinist, pianist, medical doctor, and children’s orchestra administrator—remembers that their father started Yo-Yo on the violin at age two and a half, then piano, but he didn’t like them.

“He didn’t want to do something that I already did because he could see that I already knew how to play,” Yeou-Cheng Ma says. “He was a very smart kid, very intuitive . . . and a charmer, even at a young age.”

So he didn’t play any instrument for the next year and a half, during which time the family moved to New York. One day, he saw a newsreel about a New Orleans jazz band and noticed the double bass. “He was thrilled,” his sister recalls. “He said, ‘That one! The big one! That’s what I want!’” But since he was so little, he was given the second-biggest one, a cello. Their father, Hiao-Tsiun Ma, taught him the Bach Suites, measure by measure. At age seven, Yo-Yo and Yeou-Cheng performed Breval’s Concertino No. 3 at a fundraiser for the Kennedy Center. The audience included President John F. Kennedy and former President Dwight Eisenhower.

Ma went on the study with Leonard Rose at the Juilliard School, but dropped out and entered Harvard at age 16, majoring in the history of science. Since then, he has been on a magic cello ride around the world, figuratively and literally. As he approaches the start of his seventh decade, Ma says he is swimming and walking, watching what he eats, and assessing his goals—“What’s worth really, really trying hard for?”

About the genie joke. You don’t have intonation problems. What are you talking about?

Mark Salzman wrote this wonderful book about a cellist (The Soloist) . . . seeking perfection. Of course, you cannot achieve perfection and you kind of get paralyz

ed, so you have to find equilibrium between the possible—what’s realistic and what is ideal.

What is your proudest accomplishment?

Family. I love my family. They’re great people, and I’m just so, so lucky to have them. That’s by far.

In your career?

To have been part of these children’s television shows Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, Sesame Street, [and] Arthur, because what happens when you go on a child’s show is that they’re not a guest in my world, but I’m the guest in their world. If they accept you, it’s permanent, it’s theirs. And that is so important because to me that is the basis of all cultural understanding, or any artistic understanding, which is you have to stand on the inside. So if you’re accepted into a child’s world, that’s the greatest gift of all.

I’ve had the great luxury of meeting kids who saw [me] many years ago, and I see them as teenagers, 20 year olds, 30 year olds, and they can tell me, “This did this to me at that time and therefore I did this at that time.” And that’s incredibly rewarding.

I didn’t expect that answer. You never fail to surprise.

I think that, and probably being part of building the Music Garden in Toronto [as part of Ma’s “Inspired by Bach” series]. There’s a music garden that Julie Moir Messervy based on the First Bach Suite. Because that’s another symbol of what culture means to me . . . . Culture is kind of like a living seed and it can grow in places that are not fertile . . . . Gardens are not just existent in nature, but somehow there’s a human element of tending it, caring for, of enriching, of selecting.

And then, of course, the garden is there to be enjoyed, to be used, to be part of people’s lives in different times and seasons. To me, it is the ultimate metaphor for culture. And for culture, I would say, what we tend in our human garden is probably things like the arts, the sciences, and philosophy.

I’ve been thinking of these things because I’ve always wondered, what is music for? And lately, a lot of musicians are interested in music and health. What is it that actually becomes a passion? Is it the sound, is it the activity, is it what state of mind you get to, where you are actually in the activity of teaching music, of playing music and joining with others into creating music? What part of the brain does it use? How does it affect your state of mind? How does it affect the other things? And so whether you’re a child or an adult [or] a retired person, what do these things do to your brain?

And what are educational systems based on? Where did our high school subjects come from? Our studies are from 1910, so [do] we need to reboot that? How does art fit into that, how does that fit into arts funding and science funding? What are we educating our children for? Is it a transactional thing? Do you pay that money in order to get better jobs or is there something about education that is different?

I think those are serious questions that the nation’s considering. Not just this nation but every nation. “Oh, we’re falling behind in the sciences! Oh, we have to do STEM [science, technology, engineering, and mathematics]!” But wait a minute? Do we have common philosophy? Is it e pluribus unum, which is on every quarter, or is it “all for one and one for all?” Or is it just for me? Because is what’s good for me good for everybody?

So these are the questions and when we think about them it affects the sounds that we make. And I think for Strings, and the edition of Strings that you are writing for, I think that’s something—yes, strings are like vocal cords and how we use our voice, whether we use it to alert, warn, soothe, pacify, communicate, what are we communicating, who are we communicating to, what’s the purpose of the communication? Is it to join, is it to separate, is it to point to something larger, is it to something in the micro world, in the macro world?

I think those are incredibly interesting things that I would like to continue to consider after turning 60, because by many standards, I’m old. I’m part of AARP [laughing] and I can get a discount on the bus. So is my contribution less now that I’m old, or what is it that I can contribute for certain? Whatever I do is becoming less interesting than what other people do . . . . I’m less at the center of my world than when I was 20, when I was trying to say: I can do this, I want to do this.

This seems to be fodder for a very important book on society.

No, just musings of a middle-aged person going through what everybody goes through. I’d like to be able to think about these things, but also be able to try and play in tune. But while I’m playing in tune, not to obsess over intonation, but the obsession of trying to play in tune because transcending technique allows me then to communicate the content.

Do you still practice a lot?

I actually enjoy practicing more and more . . .  as a child, I practiced because I had to practice and you didn’t want to mess up. But that’s not a good thing. You want to please your teacher, you want to please your parents, you want to please your peers. And now I practice because I’ve experienced so much love that you practice out of loving a phrase, loving motivic change, loving a structure or harmony change or the way a sound can get to something.

I think that part of practicing is great because it unites what you want to do in engineering, as in technically, where do you put your arms and your fingers and your body—micro movements—with that desire and the feeling of what it needs to be. That’s a wonderful process because it’s a constant of going toward something bigger than the notes and yourself, and very lovingly so.

Whenever I catch myself playing something that sounds mechanical but dead, it’s because either I’m not paying attention or it’s something difficult that I haven’t solved. Sort of like a physicality issue that, you know, sudden tension, so I freeze up and become more internalized, so I can’t love it. Loving something implies going outside yourself and fear means retreating into yourself. I’m scared. Well, go back into yourself. That’s a metaphor for societal fears when a whole people are scared of something that they can’t control and sort of hits them, what do they do? It becomes more tight, they will make much, much more conservative decisions. The counteracting of that is culture. Hey, wait a minute, I want to know what that fear is. I’m going to research that fear. What exactly is that fear? Is it exactly what I think it is? Is that what I feel or can I analyze it? What’s the truth behind the fear? So you kind of have to look at that—that’s a key in performance. When someone performs, you want that person to be open and not to have any barriers. Any barriers that are set up between the performer and the audience actually impedes the communication of what needs to be.

I often tell people the world needs more Yo-Yo Mas, and this is a perfect example. Just these ideas alone, if people could hear them, everything that’s headed in the wrong direction can turn around.

I don’t know. We’re so invested in thinking, in trying not to screw up. Basically, I have your back. We don’t want to make obvious mistakes, so we cover up. But actually, to really create trust, you have to trust that it’s OK to make a mistake, and you’re not going to be punished for it. We acknowledge and do better the next time. It’s one of the hardest things to do because we don’t want to look like fools. [New York Times writer] David Brooks has been talking lately about what we work for: our CVs or do we work for our eulogies? There are different things that you work for, curriculum vitae, and people talk about a person differently in the eulogy. There you talk more about character—this and that—and so which one are we working for? That’s a kind of philosophical question, isn’t it? That comes with a philosophical part of culture. What are we as a society working toward? So what are we working for in a community, what are we working for in a political party, what are we working for in classical music?

You’re about to perform the Elgar Concerto, and have done so many times. How much time must you devote to it at this point?

The thing is, you know, there is engineering, neuromuscular finger work, and there’s head work. So for anybody who’s really really passionate, basically it’s whatever it takes and it’s also head work. It’s kind of all the time. It’s sort of like you’re downloading a program in your computer, it’s in your brain. When I go on to do the Elgar, I start thinking about it, on and off, all the time. So I’m thinking, “Huh, how about trying it this way?” So you’re always in some ways trying to hear something a certain way, solving a problem a certain way, and rethinking it and thinking there’s a better way to build this mousetrap. So you want to align your physical self and your mental self into the state of mind that is required of that piece.

Do you ever envision your life after cello?

Like après-ski, hot chocolate by the fireplace, with pizza?

You’re not going to lose any weight like that. 

You’re right. Maybe a cup of herbal tea and some nuts. Well, I’ve always been interested in people and culture and arts and sciences and philosophy and typology, so I think I’m always going to be thinking about it, and the older I get, the more I’ll get interested in young people because that’s another form of culture.

The young people’s world—we may occupy the same space, but they will think differently and have many different reasons to do what they do and I’m deeply curious about that. I like to think of it in K through 12 and beyond and how people learn—why they learn—and so I will always be thinking about these things.



Creative Ability Development Workshop

Exploring El Sistema - Sun, 2016-06-26 22:15
I was fortunate enough to recently attend the Creative Ability Development Workshop in Ventura, California, in large part due to Andrea Landin '13 (pictured below), Alice Kanack, and the New England Conservatory. So what is Creative Ability Development (CAD) and how is it useful in the El Sistema context? CAD... Sistema Fellows Program

El Sistema and Creative Placemaking

Exploring El Sistema - Thu, 2016-06-16 09:01
"Creative Placemaking" and "El Sistema" are relatively new terms referring to strategies for transforming communities and changing lives. These strategies have been in use for decades, but only in recent years have these two terms emerged to identify these established ways to address community and social issues. The Kresge Foundation... Sistema Fellows Program

Interactive technology and formative assessment tools

Exploring El Sistema - Wed, 2016-06-15 17:29
The intent of the Innovation Grant that I received from the Sistema Fellowship Resource Center last fall was to implement a peer-mentoring program and formative assessment tools that teach youth how to use online technology, including SmartMusic, and become more self-directed and confident. This grant also helped me grow in... Sistema Fellows Program

AMP finalist for national youth arts award

Exploring El Sistema - Wed, 2016-06-15 17:02
"The President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities, and its cultural partners – the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Institute of Museum and Library Services – are proud to recognize 50 outstanding programs all over the country for their work in... Sistema Fellows Program

SLPC progress

NEC Construction News - Thu, 2016-06-09 11:03

Exploring Colombia's Youth Music Initiatives

Avi Mehta's Blog - Sun, 2016-01-10 11:09
Prior to arriving in Colombia this past summer, I had numerous preconceived ideas of what to expect based on my previous trips to Venezuela. Given their proximity on the map, similar heritage, and testimonies by numerous visitors, I came away from my three-week trip realizing that Colombia was a country headed in a very different direction from its neighbor, both in their development of society and El Sistema.
            With tourism thriving and a rough history with drugs mostly in its past, each of the four cities I visited in Colombia were unique. I packed for weather ranging from 40—90 degrees as the changes in climate and landscape were as diverse as the Sistema-inspired programs I visited.  
My trip started in Medellin, a very large city bustling with traffic, mountainous views, perfect temperatures, and stunning properties. The youth instrumental programs in Medellin are run by an organization called La Red, which serves students in over 30 neighborhoods and schools throughout the city. Funded by the city government, the program serves both affluent and underserved areas—a unique concept in Medellin, where lots of effort has been placed on equalizing the playing field between residents with a varied levels of income. I was introduced to two schools in La Red by two of my former Boston colleagues, Rebecca Levi (Sistema Fellow ’10) and Claudia Garcia. When visiting the programs, we witnessed a less intense, but more creative approach to music making. Each program showcases a different type of ensemble, caters to all ages, and also provides instruction in music literacy. For instance, In Claudia’s nucleo, a theatre teacher taught a class on how to use their body’s to communicate and build trust within an ensemble. When visiting the wind ensemble in another part of the city, the ages of the students ranged from 12—22.
            After a quick vacation in the popular city of Cartagena, my next stop was Santa Marta, a warm, tropical, costal city on the Caribbean. Another former Boston colleague, Antonio Berdugo, hosted me as we spent our time hosting seminarios with students in Cajamag, a private organization that uses public funding to serve youth in the area. The music program is only a small branch of the organization, which leads to an insufficient quantity on resources, limiting their ability to grow artistically. This was a huge contrast to Venezuela’s national Sistema, which is able to offer more support and resources to their teachers, helping them  improve the musical level of their program. The students in Santa Marta, of course, were fantastic to work with and displayed enthusiasm and hospitality that made rehearsals in the intense heat totally enjoyable.
            The final leg of my trip was in Bogota, Colombia’s capital city situated at over 8,000ft, where the temperature stays in the 50’s year around. I had a wonderful time working with the musicians of the Metropolitan Youth Orchestra of Batuta, the largest music for social change organization in the country. Given their flagship status, my first instinct was to compare their Metropolitan Youth Orchestra with the leading youth orchestras in Venezuela. However, given that the organization has branches in fewer cities, focuses more on fundamental musical training rather than orchestra training, and has been around for only just over 20 years, I realized that the leading “Sistema’s” in both countries are quite distinct. The lack of one governing organization throughout the country made it more difficult to achieve the standardized resources, which has led to so much artistic success in Venezuela. However, the more localized approach to building a Sistema in each city, rather than to form a national system has yielded some flexibility is allowing for each city to have numerous organizations create their own programs and customize their approach to each community.
            The difference in infrastructures in Colombia and Venezuela was certainly unexpected at first. While Venezuela has clearly invested much of its resources into developing a national system of youth orchestras that serves as many youth as possible, Colombia had a feel much closer to that of the United States and Europe--separate organizations created localized programs without much outside leadership. The clear commonality between the two South American countries was the children, who were eager, passionate, and relentless in their pursuit of music education, which instilled the joy that will motivate me to plan my next trip to South America soon. 
For a video containing photos, rehearsal footage, and student testimonies from my trip to Colombia, please see the video below!