Haitian American violinist and pedagogue Marie Racine Montilla started her musical training at L’École de Musique Sainte Trinité in Haiti. Later, she moved to the States where she received her Bachelor’s in Music in Violin Performance from the University of Louisville where she studied with Michel Samson and Peter McHugh, former concertmaster of the Louisville Orchestra. During her undergraduate career she won, on several occasions, first and second prizes in the McCauley Chamber Music Competition organized by the University of Louisville. While in Louisville she had the opportunity to work for the Kentucky Public School System where she taught Arts and Music. She was also a member for several years of the Bach Society of Kentucky. Marie went on to perfect her skills at Indiana University’s Jacobs School of Music where she pursued post-baccalaureate studies in Violin Performance with Henryk Kowalski. She has performed with the Owensboro Symphony Orchestra, the Evansville Philharmonic Orchestra, and the National Philharmonic Orchestra of Venezuela. In 2007 she moved to Venezuela where she became actively involved in El Sistema as violin teacher and orchestra director in the Núcleo in San Antonio de los Altos. She is currently completing a Masters in Music in violin performance at the Simon Bolivar University in Caracas where she is studying with Simon Gollo.

Read Marie Racine Montilla's blog.

A Talk with Marie Racine Montilla

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

I applied to the Abreu Fellows Program because I believe in the power of El Sistema, especially after having had the privilege to teach and be a part of it in Venezuela. I want to play an active role in the growing El Sistema USA movement.

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

The tools I look forward to developing during the fellowship include fundraising, networking, organizational development and community leadership. I hope to use these tools to create El-Sistema-inspired music programs in the US or abroad.

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

In five years I hope to be providing great music education to underserved and at-risk kids following in the model of El Sistema Venezuela. I see myself involved in program development and community leadership because I believe in the power of music education to change lives.

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

Music education builds confidence and self-esteem. It teaches children team work and provides them with a platform for community recognition with every performance opportunity. Continuous and consistent music studies supplies structure in the lives of children, something they will benefit from in all other areas of study. They learn solidarity, punctuality, and responsibility. It also gives children a feeling of belonging and most importantly a feeling of inclusion.

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?

Music educators in the US always seem to be fighting an up-hill battle to keep their programs funded. In the US, great music schools are forming wonderfully capable educators and I think they need to be given a fighting chance.

6. How did you learn about El Sistema?

I came to know of the existence of El Sistema in 2001 while at Indiana University where I met Jorge Montilla, clarinetist, and Richard Biaginni, violinist, who were students. Both of them are star examples of the success of music education in Venezuela. Montilla is currently principal clarinetist of the Simon Bolivar Symphony and Biaginni is professor in the Latin-American Violin Academy in Caracas.

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

First of all El Sistema is a social program which knows no societal boundaries, it is the ultimate example of an inclusive program. Second, it uses the orchestra as a platform to teach music. Third, it strives for the best musical achievement regardless of the challenges. One important element that makes El Sistema program successful is their ability to produce leaders. Montilla and Biaginni are two perfect examples of this. Both of them started their music education sitting in an El Sistema children’s orchestra and today they are leaders and teachers within the program setting the standard for future generations.

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

Yes. I have had the privilege to teach and mentor children in three different countries, Haiti, the U.S. and in Venezuela. My experience in Venezuela especially stands out because I had the opportunity to work within the El Sistema network of nucleos.