Graciela BricenoGraciela Briceno was born in Caracas, Venezuela and raised in a hodgepodge of American cultures.  She began her classical music studies on the viola at age ten and went on to attend Boston University, from where she received her Bachelor of Music in Music Education, studying viola with Edward Gazouleas and curriculum development with Sandra Nicolucci.  During her undergraduate years, Graciela interned and taught at various schools in the Boston area, including Boston Latin School, Prevention Now in Jamaica Plain, and Conservatory Lab Charter School in Brighton.  Her passion for multicultural education led her to Mount Kenya Academy, where she coordinated a strings program of 125 wonderful students in the town of Nyeri.  In addition to teaching music, she started a Spanish Culture Club for middle school students and volunteered with a number of Kenyan schools and orphanages.  As a violist, Graciela has performed with the Boston University Orchestra, Royal College of Music Orchestra in London, and Nairobi Orchestra.  Dedicated to community service, she has been a volunteer with the American Red Cross for nine years, and was awarded the 2004 Real Hero and Good Samaritan Awards for her work with HIV/AIDS Peer Education.

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A Talk with Graciela Briceno

1. Why did you apply to the Abreu Fellows Program?

After I first learned of El Sistema, I was hooked on the idea of bringing this amazing education model to the United States.  When a friend told me about the Abreu Fellows Program, it was music to my ears – a training program that would help me achieve this goal as a music educator within a community of musicians who had similar ambitions.

2. What tools will you develop during this fellowship and how do you think these tools will be useful in your future post?

I am looking forward to learning the ‘nitty gritty’ of El Sistema – everything from conducting techniques and grant writing to Dr. Abreu’s educational philosophies and how to implement them within every rehearsal.  All of these tools, as well as the support of my peers, will be necessary for developing a quality music program that strives to achieve the goals of El Sistema.

3. Where do you see yourself in five years? What will you be doing and why?

I hope to be leading an El Sistema inspired music program, combining the skills I attain at NEC with my own philosophies of multicultural education.  I want to create partnerships between youth orchestra programs in the US. and those from around the world so that students can learn the importance of cultural diversity and tolerance.

4. Why do you think that music education is important to a child’s development? 

Music is a tool that can be used for so many things within a child’s life.  Orchestral programs can develop social skills within a child, composition and performance can help that child express deep emotions in a healthy manner, and learning an instrument can open doors in that child’s world that might never have appeared otherwise.

5. Write a short analysis of the present state of music education for children in the US. What has been done right and where do you see room for improvement?

It is difficult to describe music education in the US. as a whole because there is such variety.  There are dedicated music teachers out there changing the lives of children both within and outside of school settings.  However, the idea being presented by many school districts, that music is an expendable subject, hinders the ability of these teachers to make a greater impact on the lives of their students.

6. How did you learn about El Sistema?

In August 2007, the Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra played at the BBC Proms, and I had the incredible fortune of watching the performance.  As I heard the young musicians under the direction of Gustavo Dudamel, I was filled with an indescribable energy and new sense of purpose towards my career as a music teacher.  That is how I was first introduced to El Sistema.

7. Why do you think El Sistema is unique? What elements made the El Sistema program successful where others were not?

 One of the primary functions of El Sistema is to use orchestral training as a model for community involvement, thus teaching students the importance of team work, commitment, and discipline.  This gives orchestral programs a deeper sense of purpose, which motivates students, teachers, and parents to work hard and achieve greatness.  Programs that strive to teach music and nothing more might not have the same intrinsic motivation and sustainability.

8. Have you worked with or mentored children in the past?

As a college student, I was always interning or working for some type of education program – from teaching journalism to underserved children to running a Sunday school nursery for toddlers.  While in Kenya, I taught strings to students of all ages, but also mentored high school seniors as they explored their options for the future.  All of these experiences were incredibly rewarding in their own right.