Originally from Boston, cellist Laura Jekel has performed and taught throughout Latin America and the United States. After earning a bachelor of music degree at Indiana University in Bloomington, she traveled to Ecuador where she was a member of the Orquesta Sinfónica de Guayaquil and cello professor at the music school Fronteras Musicales Abiertas. She gave master classes and recitals throughout Ecuador, including performances of the Dvorak, Schumann and Haydn C Major cello concertos with the Orquesta Sinfónica de Cuenca, the Orquesta Sinfónica de Loja and the Cuen-K Ensamble. While at Indiana University, she won two overseas study grants from the Honors College. The first grant allowed her to participate in the Festival de la Orquesta Sinfónica Juvenil de las Americas, an orchestra festival in Puerto Rico. The second grant allowed her to travel as invited principal cellist of the Long Island Youth Orchestra on their tour of South America. Aside from her solo and orchestral work, Laura is an avid teacher. While living in Ecuador, she was invited to be a visiting faculty member at the Universidad Juan N. Corpus, a leading music university in Bogotá, Colombia. During the summer, she is the cello teacher at Encore/Coda, a music camp in Maine. Since returning from Ecuador in 2007, Laura has studied at Carnegie Mellon University, where she completed her master of music degree, and at the Peabody Institute. Her teachers have included Carol Ou, Emilio Colón, Anne Martindale Williams and Alan Stepansky.
A Talk with Laura Jekel
1) Why did you apply to the Abreu Fellows Program?
After finishing my undergraduate studies, I moved to Ecuador where I became the first cello teacher at the music school Fronteras Musicales Abiertas. While working there, I saw the profound impact that music can have on a community. Many of my students were self-taught, and their enthusiasm and gratitude made me realize that I could use music, which had always been my personal passion, to benefit others. After leaving Ecuador, I wanted to get involved with a program that had both musical and social goals.
2) What tools will you develop during this fellowship and how do you think these tools will be useful in your future post?
I’m looking forward to visiting Venezuela and seeing El Sistema firsthand. This trip will give me ideas about which aspects of El Sistema will translate well to the US, and which will need adjusting. I also hope to learn the practicalities of how to start my own “nucleo,” such as fundraising and getting people excited about arts programs.
3) Where do you see yourself in five years? What will you be doing and why?
In five years I would like to be pursuing my DMA degree with the eventual goal of working at a college or conservatory. I hope this will enable me to link these institutions with El Sistema programs, and allow me to unify the El Sistema movement in the US. In the future, I would also like to assist in bringing similar programs to other countries, maybe with the help of children who have participated in El Sistema USA.
4) Why do you think that music education is important to a child’s development?
Learning an instrument is a constant quest for improvement that requires honest self-assessment.
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?
In my public elementary school, we had the option of free lessons on an instrument of our choice starting in fourth grade, and I chose the cello. One of the strengths of music education in the US is that it gives children who would not otherwise have studied music (like me) the chance to do so. However, due to a lack of financial resources, space, time and quality instruments, children in many of these programs who want to continue to study music seriously would need to take private lessons, which is not always feasible. Additionally, music educators often find themselves stretched thin when they need to teach many different instruments to a huge number of students. In most colleges and universities, there is a large divide between training for music educators and music performers. One proposal that could benefit everyone involved is to break this barrier, and foster the formation of musicians who see themselves both as performers and educators.
6) How did you learn about El Sistema?
The director of the music school where I taught in Ecuador showed me the video “Tocar y Luchar.” This film inspired me to find out more about El Sistema.
7) Why do you think El Sistema is unique? What elements made the El Sistema program successful where others were not?
Using classical music, El Sistema gives children in difficult circumstances tools to improve their lives. It also gives classical music, which is often perceived as an elite art form, a practical purpose in society. This mutually beneficial relationship is what makes El Sistema unique, and has contributed to its success.
8) Have you worked with or mentored children in the past?
In 2006 and 2007 I taught cello at Fronteras Musicales Abiertas in Cuenca, Ecuador. While living in Cuenca, I worked with young cellists in cities throughout Ecuador, as well as in Bogotá, Colombia. During the summer, I have taught at Encore/Coda, a music camp in Maine. While studying at the Peabody Institute, I was the cello teacher at the Baltimore Talent Education Center, an after school music program that offers free or low cost lessons to Baltimore City public school students.