Oh Hello…

NEC Blog - Wed, 2015-08-12 13:51

Oh Hello…

Kenny Barron / Dave Holland Duo - Kenny Barron / Dave Holland Duo, Brecon Jazz Festival, 07/08/2015. | Review | The Jazz Mann

NEC Blog - Wed, 2015-08-12 13:35
Kenny Barron / Dave Holland Duo - Kenny Barron / Dave Holland Duo, Brecon Jazz Festival, 07/08/2015. | Review | The Jazz Mann:

In the superb acoustic environment of Brecon’s Theatr Brycheiniog Barron and Holland produced a veritable masterclass in the art of duo playing, their rapport relaxed, intelligent, intimate and conversational with no one musician dominating and with the spirit of true musical dialogue at the heart of the performances. 

Music was my refuge.

NEC Blog - Wed, 2015-08-12 10:00

Music was my refuge.

Nielsen: Wind Quintet

NEC Blog - Wed, 2015-08-12 07:45

Nielsen: Wind Quintet

Checking in at the construction site: Crane is gone, digger is...

NEC Blog - Tue, 2015-08-11 10:01

Checking in at the construction site: Crane is gone, digger is here and we have signs!

Bartok: The Miraculous Mandarin

NEC Blog - Tue, 2015-08-11 08:00

Bartok: The Miraculous Mandarin


NEC Blog - Mon, 2015-08-10 10:42


Widor: Suite for Flute and Piano mvt. 1 Moderato feat. James...

NEC Blog - Mon, 2015-08-10 08:30

Widor: Suite for Flute and Piano mvt. 1 Moderato feat. James Galway

Making aspects of the Sistema Fellows Program's curriculum accessible to local musicians

Exploring El Sistema - Mon, 2015-08-03 22:12
I am pleased to announce that, starting in September 2015, NEC will offer a brand new two-part course about designing community-based residencies through its School of Continuing Education. Building on curriculum developed specifically for the Sistema Fellows Program (2009-2014), the goal is to help local musicians, including NEC alumni and... Sistema Fellows Program

Collaboration & Creativity Laboratory Video

Exploring El Sistema - Tue, 2015-07-21 10:10
Sistema Fellows Program

Musical Service Residencies

Exploring El Sistema - Mon, 2015-07-20 09:37
"A few of my colleagues in the sector have voiced their growing concern over what might charitably be referred to as “Sistema Theatre.” You’ve probably seen the videos: giant massed orchestras, bright coloured shirts, exaggerated stage motion culminating in a strangely anti-social camera focus on hyperkinetic podium flailing. Spectacle has... Sistema Fellows Program

Collaboration & Creativity Laboratory

Exploring El Sistema - Mon, 2015-07-13 11:05
As a classically-trained pianist, I admit I’ve hesitated to teach the creative process to my students because of my lack of training and experience. I love to sight-read. Put any piece of music in front of me and I welcome the challenge. Yet when prodded to improvise, I feel like... Sistema Fellows Program

The Ensemble, July edition

Exploring El Sistema - Mon, 2015-07-13 10:41
The July edition of Tricia Tunstall and Eric Booth's publication chronicling the emerging field of El Sistema-inspired activity in the US and beyond, including an essay by Christine Witkowski (Sistema Fellow '10), is found here. Sistema Fellows Program

Little Composers of St. Luke's

Exploring El Sistema - Mon, 2015-07-13 09:42
I’m uncomfortable with the label “The Creative.” When I hear that word, my brain projects a video in my mind: a brightly lit stage—empty—followed by the smooth voice of an announcer pronouncing “…and now, The Creative behind this innovative and disruptive project, Mr./Ms. So and So” followed by thunderous applause.... Sistema Fellows Program

Atlanta Music Project launches new site

Exploring El Sistema - Mon, 2015-07-13 09:16
According to a recent press release, the "Atlanta Music Project and The Kindezi Schools have formed a partnership to launch a flagship site for AMPlify, the choral music program of the Atlanta Music Project (AMP). Classes will begin in the fall of 2015 at The Kindezi School's West Lake campus.... Sistema Fellows Program

Remarks in support of Sistema Tulsa at TPS School Board of Education

Jose-Luis Estrada - Fri, 2015-07-10 17:07

Remarks given at the July 7, 2015 Regular TPS School Board of Education meeting in support of agenda item G-6. 

With your permission Madam President: 

My name is Jose Luis Hernandez. I am founding director of Sistema Tulsa. I would like to begin by thanking the School Board for allowing me the opportunity to comment on the Memorandum of Understanding that is being recommended today, which outlines a partnership between the Boston Avenue United Methodist Church and the Tulsa Public Schools in support of Sistema Tulsa.

Sistema Tulsa is a brand new after-school music program with an educational impact focus that will launch on September 9th of this year. On its first and pilot year, it will serve up to 80 students representing three Elementary schools—Burroughs, Chouteau, and Lee. These students will participate in the program daily, receive free tuition, instruments, and instruction from quality teachers, some of which are music teachers in the district.

Our program envisions music education as a tool for human development and social transformation among underserved communities. From the Boston Avenue perspective, it is also an opportunity to provide our fellow citizens with access to what we believe can be best described as an "affluence of the spirit."

Our model is adapted from El Sistema, an international arts learning movement now present in 35 countries and in over 90 communities in the United States. The model supports a philosophy of education based on moderating learning experiences within high-functioning, aspiring, and nurturing communities. Research shows that students participating in musical ensembles with Sistema program around the US are improving their academic achievement, developing empathy towards others, fostering integration among their peers, and persevering through the discipline and focus that the practice of music requires.

A few weeks ago, our Superintendent of Schools, Dr. Deborah Gist, sent out a survey to the Tulsa community so that they could help us discern the most critical needs for education in our district. "What is the purpose of K-12 public education in Tulsa?" she asked.  80% respondents said, and I quote, “To help students fulfill their potential and have choices in life.”

I see Sistema Tulsa as playing a part in response to that need.

Sistema Tulsa affirms that the intensive study of music framed as part of a social or community experience can help participants develop critical habits of mind that will allow them to be persistent in spite of adversity, produce accurate work, work well with others, and think about their future in a positive light.

We will measure positive gains over time with the help of researchers from the Center for Music in Education in Boston and the OSU Center for Family Resilience.

For the past several months we have been working with Principals, PTA presidents, music teachers, and other leaders to shape the purpose and pedagogy of our program. We’ve transferred the most relevant practices and ideas from El Sistema in light of our working context. The process has been very rewarding. It has allowed us to plant the seeds for a truly community led program that can also aspire to be a model for partnerships-in-education.

On behalf our program, its advisory committee and funders; our students, families, and staff. We thank the district for all of the support given to this cause. I also would like to thank Rochelle Klein who helped us lead the effort to bring this MOU to the Board today. Also, the district Fine Arts and Music Coordinators deserve our recognition, as well as the lead Elementary ILD Director for supporting our work.  

I know that we will do a good work together and will look forward to receiving the School Board’s feedback and input as we sustain and grow this program over time. We are delighted to formally begin this partnership. Thank you very much.

Embodied Music®: the Feldenkrais Method for Musicians

Cello Bello Blog - Mon, 2012-05-14 13:03

Before discussing what the Feldenkrais method is and how it can help you make better music without injuring yourself, let me start by asking a few questions.

Have you ever observed how very young children respond to music – with rhythmic movement, with sounds, with all sorts of other movements? Do you remember how you felt as a child, when you wanted to make music? Do you ever feel something akin to ecstasy when you hear a piece of a performance you really love? Is the sense of ecstasy only a thought or is it a feeling also in your body? Where in yourself do you feel it? Do you feel the rhythm? Can you feel that sometimes music makes you feel light and sometimes heavy, sometimes it is a swaying feeling and sometimes you want to jump? Sometimes tall and wide when the sound fills up the universe and sometimes all stops and there is just a minimal movement, like very quiet waters?

Do you realize that all these states have to do with your body, with different muscular states and a different organization of the skeleton? That your muscles feel different when you feel speed, and different when you feel swaying? What would you think if I told you that the feeling in your body of a particular phrase will create just the right muscle tone needed to play the phrase – not more and not less? Would you consider the thought that ignoring the physical feeling of music might contribute to injury and frustration?

Why do many of us lose that embodied feeling of music we had when we were children? Is it possible to keep the ecstasy of music alive through the whole process of acquiring the techniques to express it? And not only to keep it alive, but use it to find the right movements to express it? I constantly hear from students, after our lesson, variations on this phrase: “Wow, I remember now why I wanted to do it in the first place. I forgot!” The spontaneity and unity of hearing, doing and listening, is suddenly available again and the music is a pleasure to make, even when it needs improvement. Quiet, simple breathing resumes and the sense of the body’s weight returns. It is a moment of relief even to very accomplished players.

When one remembers this natural feeing of music and realizes how much of it is dormant, the next question is how to reclaim it.

The Feldenkrais method provides tools which use the language of movement to do just this. Dr. Feldenkrais created thousands of movement lessons which address every movement needed to live and to play. As a result, injuries are prevented and alleviated and one discovers new options of sounds which in turns enrich the musical imagination.

After many years of working with musicians and realizing how little information and help they get from their own body, I developed a way, which I call “Embodied Music”, to apply the Feldenkrais Method to musicians.

I use four formats in teaching:

1. Group movement lessons
2. Private sessions where I work with my hands, addressing specific problems of a student, sometimes with and sometimes without the instrument.
3. Master Classes
4. Workshops, combining all formats.

In the next installment, I will explain the tools and the theory used to help you express your music without hurting yourself.  In the last installment I will direct you through a series of movements so you can experience the efficacy of this Method.

Raising the Arms Pt. 2

Cello Bello Blog - Mon, 2012-05-07 13:33

A wheel needs a central point of contact, an axis, in order to turn and spin. One never loses touch with one’s central point – the spine – as one moves through life. But society today has lost that core. It has no idea where it is going.
- Svami Purna

When I was well into my studies as a young cellist, I became fascinated with the question: How does one raise the arms to play? My naive mind wondered: is there a wrong way and a right way, and how does one distinguish between the two?  I read a great many books on cello technique and for years I asked this question of my teachers. It seemed to me to be a very important gesture that most people took for granted, and my teachers, with one exception, never discussed it, except very generally to illustrate: ‘do it like this’.  But where did ‘this’ originate? Where did the energy come from and how was it to be directed in this fundamental act of preparing to play?

When I began training as a teacher of the Alexander Technique, I came face to face with a basic tenet of the work: the act of raising the arms is central to all one’s activities and depends upon the entire coordination of the body, not only the arms. I felt as if I had finally come home.

I mentioned in the last installment the following quotations from F.M. Alexander:

Stiffened necks and arms of people of today are outward signs of the imperfect development and lack of coordination of the muscular system of the back and spine.

Arms and necks are stiffened in performing actions which properly call for the perfect coordination of the muscular mechanisms of the back.

To understand the meaning of these words, we are asked to take a step back—to what precedes the raising of the arms—and that means coming into quiet and taking stock of the state of one’s head/neck and back relationship, what Alexander called the ‘Primary Control’. If the neck is tight, if the head is not balancing freely on top of the spine, if the back is either rigid or collapsed, what hope have we of raising the arms and using them freely in whatever we do, let alone playing the cello?

Let’s begin by looking at the connection of the arms to the source of their power, the back and yes, the legs too! The moment you think of reaching up or out with the arm, the equilibrium reactions are stimulated. Information is sent to the calf, hamstring, and abdominal muscles to organize the anti-gravity response to start working. The long muscles of the back (the extensors) engage to stabilize the trunk and to deliver the power to the limbs. So both the trunk and pelvis are involved in the preparation for using the arms freely. If you cannot use trunk and pelvis properly, you cannot use the arms well.

In the work of the Alexander Technique, the head/neck/back relationship is primary and the limbs are secondary; the former determines the efficacy of the latter.  We cultivate the power of the back in order to use the limbs freely.  Once the back is in its place, what we call back and up, rather than pushing or collapsing forward and downward, then we turn our attention to how the arms can be raised. To learn to keep the mind focused on what is primary when raising the arms is a huge challenge for the brain.

Amongst musicians, the arm joint (I refer here to the ‘ball and socket joint’–the ball of the upper arm bone which sits in the socket formed by the juncture of the collar bone and the shoulder blade), is one of the most misunderstood parts of the body. When I ask my students where they think their arm joint is, they usually point to a non-existent joint in the crease of their sleeve top. When I point to the place along the outer arm, indicating that this joint actually lies about 1 ½ inches down from the shoulder girdle, they are invariably surprised.

Tightening the neck, pushing forward or collapsing the lower back and raising the shoulder girdle to raise the arm are three of the most common faults, even amongst professional musicians and teachers of other instruments. To learn to use what Alexander called the ‘lifter muscles’—the latissimus dorsi or the large long muscles that wrap along each side of the back—and to allow the arm to rotate in the socket by sending the elbow away from the shoulder, rather than contracting it inward, contributes to a free, floating arm which is light, very mobile and which can transmit the power of the back, the primary energy supplier.

It can take quite a revision of our thinking to acknowledge that the arms don’t make the effort; they simply transmit the power supplied by the back. They are the agents of the spine and must be quiet and ‘empty’ in order to receive this power. Furthermore, when they are well-supported by the huge, long muscles of the back, they are not heavy, nor do they ever need to be made heavy to produce sound.  Making the arms feel heavy to relax them is one of the great myths of cello playing and usually involves collapse of the spinal column, or what we call in Alexander work ‘pulling down’.

My Alexander teacher often quotes his great teacher’s saying: ‘Let the spine light up the fingertips.’  The energy must flow like water from the source to the destination, in our case, the string.