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2012-13 Sistema Fellows Announced

Eight women, two men with wide-ranging background, and several with El Sistema experience

NEC Welcomes Fourth Class of Sistema Fellows to Train as Leaders of El Sistema-inspired Programs

Class of 10 Includes Several with Experience Working in the US and Abroad in Music for Social Change Programs

The Sistema Fellows (formerly “Abreu Fellows”) Program at New England Conservatory is delighted to announce its fourth class of 10 post-graduate musicians “passionate for their art and social change” to train as leaders in the El Sistema movement in the United States and beyond. 

The program was created in response to El Sistema founder José Antonio Abreu’s 2009 TED Wish to Change the World and has produced young musical entrepreneurs who are creating, leading, and working in nucleos (music education programs) throughout the United States.  Classes will begin September 5 and continue through May 2013 and include mini-residencies in several American and international cities and a month-long intensive residency in Venezuela. An official program of NEC's Continuing Education School directed by Dean and Executive Director Leslie Wu Foley, the Sistema Fellows are led by Erik Holmgren, Program Director and Virginia Hecker, Communications and Operations Director.

The new class brings together eight women and two men of diverse talents, ranging in age from 22--32. They include a multi-instrumentalist and world music advocate; French horn and trumpet players, a cellist, a violin/violist, two flutists, two piano/vocalists, and a conductor. Several of them have already been working in social change programs in Ecuador, Chile, South Africa, Guatemala, Tanzania, Brazil, and the U.S.

During the one-year, certificate-granting program, the Fellows will combine intensive seminar learning with field work at local, national and international levels. Seminars will once again draw on the faculty and staff of NEC as well as nationally-renowned artists, educators, and non-profit leaders with a focus on non-profit strategy, policy, and education as they relate to El Sistema organizational management. The Fellows will observe and teach at several different El Sistema-inspired organizations in the Boston area, including the Conservatory Lab Charter School and a new program in Roxbury, “Revolution of Hope,” established by 2012 Fellow David France. They will also observe and participate in internships with programs in other parts of the country, in Europe and Central America. For example, previous classes have worked with OrchKids in Baltimore, the Harmony Project in New York, Play on Philly in Philadelphia, Kidznotes in Durham, NC, Youth Orchestra of Los Angeles, Juneau Alaska Music Matters (JAMM), Sistema Scotland, and Sistema Costa Rica. In the spring, the Fellows will spend one month in Venezuela observing firsthand the El Sistema model. By connecting seminar learning with exposure to the El Sistema movement, The Sistema Fellows will graduate from NEC with the skills and inspiration to lead the movement forward.

Now more than 37 years old, Venezuela's El Sistema is a phenomenally successful program of social action through music education that transforms the lives of at-risk children. It currently provides free music lessons and ensemble experience to more than 300,000 children and young adults throughout Venezuela.  Its intent is to provide children with what Dr. Abreu terms "affluence of the spirit," a necessary first step toward developing the self-actualization and confidence to build a successful life.  Through its intense time commitment, rigor, loving concern for each child, and emphasis on the individual player as an essential member of the ensemble, it has rescued many youngsters from the social ills they might otherwise experience.  Many graduates continue to play in professional orchestras and have gone on to college and successful working lives. El Sistema's flagship orchestra, the Símon Bolívar Youth Orchestra of Venezuela has become internationally renowned.  And the young El Sistema-bred conductor, Gustavo Dudamel, has become a superstar and currently serves as Music Director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic. NEC has had a close working relationship with El Sistema for nearly two decades, and President Tony Woodcock and Executive Director Eduardo Méndez underscored that relationship in late March when they signed the third and most recent Friendship Agreement between the two institutions.

Sistema Fellows 2012--13

Cellist Andrea Shigeko Landin was born and raised in Los Angeles, California, where she took lessons at the Colburn School of Performing Arts. She went on to earn a B.M. in Cello Performance from the Oberlin Conservatory of Music and a B.A. in Anthropology from Oberlin College. Bridging these two degrees, Andrea spent the year of 2011 as an artistic facilitator in Totonicapán, located in the highlands of Guatemala, with non-profit organizations Artcorps and Ecologic Development Fund/48 Cantones. There, she worked with indigenous youth to design and implement projects that promoted environmental conservation and the continuation of ancestral practices, using music and art as tools for social change. Prior to her work in Totonicapán, she spent four months doing field-based research at the Centro de Investigaciones de Mesoamerica in Antigua, Guatemala, and served as an intern at the Guatemala Human Rights Commission in Washington D.C.
Andrea has been a recipient of the Oberlin Conservatory Dean's Scholarship, the John Frederick Oberlin Scholarship, and the Comfort Starr Award in Anthropology. She was principal and assistant principal of the Oberlin Chamber Orchestra and performed with the Oberlin Orchestra at Carnegie Hall. She has attended festivals including Meadowmount School of Music, Quartet Program, and California Summer Music. Her primary teachers have included Hans Jorgen Jensen, Amir Eldan, and Jennifer Goss.

Born high in the Andes of Ecuador, trumpeter Carlos Roldán is a music educator and ardent advocate for social change. He currently runs the Music Education Program of the California Non-Profit Organization SAHLUD (Student Advocates for Healthy Living in Underserved Demographics). Carlos and his team of student volunteers travel throughout Ecuador teaching music classes to children in six impoverished, rural communities. SAHLUD’s influence also extends far beyond music education; its other philanthropic projects provide underserved communities of Ecuador with sustainable, free rolling medical clinics; public health education workshops; and provisions for healthier communal living. Participation is free for students and parents.

The foundation continues to grow at an accelerated rate, implementing new and bold ideas that raise awareness about the incomparable value of music in the global perspective. Carlos is deeply committed to fostering a musical environment that is transformative to the lives of children and their families; consequently, he is working towards implementing many of El Sistema’s philosophies and practices in his growing music program in Ecuador.

Carlos has performed with distinguished groups all across California, from the Tulare County Symphony to San Diego’s Westwind Brass Quintet. He received a B.M. in Trumpet Performance with a minor in Biology from San Diego State University.

Brazilian-born conductor Diogo Pereira has embraced two passions: music education and new music. He works for Música nas Escolas, an El Sistema-inspired project that has been transforming the lives of 22,000 children from Rio de Janeiro State in Brazil.

Pereira recently received a Doctor of Musical Arts degree in conducting from Arizona State University, where he worked as a Teaching Assistant and studied under the guidance of Professor Gary Hill. His doctoral project consisted of revising and premiering a score by one of the greatest Brazilian composers, Marlos Nobre. Pereira also holds a Masters Degree from The Conductors Institute at New York’s Bard College, where he studied under Harold Farberman and Leon Botstein. He has also attended conducting master classes with Kurt Masur, Alceo Bocchino, Isaac Karabtchevsky and Carl St. Clair. As conductor, Pereira has appeared in important venues in the USA and South America.

Diogo Pereira is an active entrepreneur. He is co-founder of Contemporaneous, a new music ensemble based in New York, and founder of Camerata Electra in Rio de Janeiro. He also served as music director at the Brazilian National Library, developing a concert series, O Som do Livro, with performances of scores from its collection. Currently, Diogo Pereira is supporting the development of social projects inspired by El Sistema in Arizona and Brazil.

Born and raised in San Jose, California, Elaine Chang Sandoval began studying the flute and piano from a young age. She had particularly transformative experiences playing in school ensembles and the San Jose Youth Symphony, and later conducting orchestras as an undergraduate, developing a commitment to ensemble music education. Elaine graduated from Soka University of America with a B.A. in liberal arts/humanities, and will soon complete a master’s in ethnomusicology at the University of Oxford. She first learned of El Sistema while an undergraduate, and has explored it in both her undergraduate and master’s theses.

Her other academic interests include Soka education (The aim of Soka education is the happiness of oneself and others, as well as society as a whole, and peace for all humanity.), global citizenship, multicultural education, music and identity, music transmission, applied ethnomusicology, and music and conflict transformation. Of Taiwanese and Mexican heritage herself, she has always maintained an interest in different music cultures, and is dedicated to progressing multicultural music education. Her music mentors include: Michael Golden, Allison Johnson, Jim Merod, Noel Lobley, Eric Clarke (ethnomusicology); Stephen Tucker (conducting); Wan-Chin Chang, Kai Chi Zhu (piano); Mary Palchak, Elena Yarritu, and Darin Ishimatsu (flute).

Vocalist and music educator, Elise Seymour, graduated with honors from Appalachian State University with degrees in Spanish and Music Education.  Prior to beginning undergraduate studies, she attended summer programs at Appalachian, Interlochen, Florida State University, and toured Europe with a national choir and band.  In addition, she created a summer music program serving disadvantaged youth in Eastern North Carolina. 

Her music education continued as she completed her studies while teaching middle school chorus and piano at Martin Middle School in Raleigh, North Carolina.  After graduation and a summer study in Madrid, Spain, Elise moved to Charlotte and began her work with the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra (CSO). 

This past year, she was the Education Assistant for the CSO’s Education Department.  Her primary duties included her role as on-site coordinator and music theory instructor for an El Sistema-inspired program at Winterfield Elementary School.  This program combined her passion for music advocacy and social change by creating neighborhood change through means of an arts initiative.  Winterfield’s Elementary program has increased by 200% to now educate 100 students a year. Children can study clarinet, trumpet, flute, violin, cello, music theory, chorus, and bucket band. 

Jessie Berne was born in New Jersey, and raised in Southwest Ohio. Born into a musical family, her first instrument was piano accordion, which she came to love as a small child listening to her mother practice every night as she studied Eastern European folk melodies and Cajun tunes.

Picking up the clarinet in elementary school, Jessie struggled to divide her time practicing between two favorite instruments. And in high school, she added a third with the study of the upright bass.

She continued on to get both a Bachelor’s, at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio and a Master’s degree, at Youngstown State University, in classical clarinet performance. Yet her love of roots music persisted, inspired by her father’s involvement in the music business as owner of a small bluegrass music hall and producer of American music events such as the Harlem Blues and Jazz Band, and Mama Lou Parks with her Lindy Hop dancers. While in college, Jessie picked up the mandolin, fiddle, guitar, and claw hammer banjo. She could also be seen playing alto and bass recorders for the Early Music Ensemble at YSU.

Instrumental music notwithstanding, her first love has always been dance. Indeed, her love for all varieties of world music grew out of her obsession with dance. She has studied tap, ballet, modern dance, swing, Appalachian clogging, ballroom, square, contra, salsa, and other folk dances from around the world.

Jessie has a wide range of interests from knitting to gardening to upcycling to bicycling, and she has experimented with many careers, trying on hats for size. She is currently working full time as an Americorps member in a social work capacity, but is eager to fuse this social mission with her passion for music through the Sistema Fellows Program at NEC.

Monique Van Willingh is a 2011 University of Cape Town (South Africa) honors graduate in Classical Flute, with an Undergraduate Performance Degree in jazz flute. Proficient in both the classical and jazz genres of music, Monique has performed in orchestras, big bands, chamber and jazz ensembles.

Winner of the Fine Music Radio/Pick ‘n Pay Music Award for Jazz(2010), Monique was also awarded the ImpACT Award for Young Professionals in Jazz Music by the Arts and Culture Trust.  She was a member of the Grahamstown National Youth Jazz Band, and performed at the Joy of Jazz Festival in August 2010.  In 2009, Monique was selected as the Principal Flutist of the MIAGI Youth Orchestra, and will be touring Europe with this orchestra in July. 

Two passions central to her life are music and youth development. R.Y.T.H.M (Reaching Youth Through Music), which Monique established in 2009, promotes local South African Music among disadvantaged youth in Cape Town. She has been involved in many youth and music projects such as the Sisters in Sound Mentorship program, Jazz Camp For Female Instrumentalists, and Youth Life Skills Development Camp Facilitation. Monique believes that music has the power to bring about hope, and change the lives of young people.

A Virginia native, Rachel Hockenberry received her Bachelor’s degree in horn performance from James Madison University and her Master’s degree from the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music (CCM). She is currently a doctoral candidate at CCM in horn performance with cognate studies in arts administration.  Rachel is an active freelance musician throughout the tristate area, performing with the Richmond (IN), Kentucky, Lima, Ohio Valley, and Columbus (OH) symphonies; Orchestra Kentucky; and the Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra.  Primary teachers include Randy Gardner, Liz Freimuth, Duane Dugger and Abigail Pack, with additional instruction from David Ohanian and Roger Kaza.

Rachel’s passion for teaching began at age 15 when she became a private music teacher and gymnastics coach.  She is currently the horn teacher in the Milford Exempt School District in Milford, Ohio.  At CCM, she has held Teaching Assistantships in the music theory department and the horn studio.  She has completed administrative internships with Cincinnati chamber music ensemble Concert:Nova, and OrchKids, an El Sistema-inspired program in Baltimore, MD.  Rachel’s OrchKids experience resulted in her overpowering love for the Sistema philosophy.  She is currently a teacher and volunteer with MYCincinnati, a youth music program created by 2011 Fellow Laura Jekel.

Sara Zanussi has a B.A. in Music from Luther College, where she studied piano and voice. She dabbles in acoustic guitar. Her ensemble experience spans three continents with The Stillwater Choir directed by Dr. Erik Christiansen; Pontificat Católica University's Coro Femenino de Cámara (in Valparaíso, Chile); Luther College's Collegiate Chorale directed by Dr. Tim Peter; Makumira University's African Ensemble in Arusha, Tanzania; and Sweet Adelines’ City of Lakes Chorus. She has directed community choirs both in Tanzania and in Decorah, Iowa. She has taught and accompanied for the past ten years with her business, Z's Keys, that won two entreprenuerial awards for her Skype lessons program.

Sara studied in Valparaiso, Chile where she also researched her undergraduate thesis, Music is Worth More Than 99 Cents: Mapuche Music and Cosmovisión, published in the National Conference of Undergraduate Research Proceedings in 2010.

She was an Umoja Music School fellow and assistant program coordinator in Arusha, Tanzania where she taught voice and piano and facilitated fourth through sixth grade music classes at Tanzanian schools.

This fall, she co-founded the El Sistema-inspired Advocates for Community through Musical Excellence (ACME) in Minneapolis, MN, where she is the Development Director.

Xóchitl Ysabela Tafoya, a Santa Barbara, California native is an active member of the music education community in her hometown. For the past four years, she has worked with the Santa Barbara Unified School District as a music teacher at nine public elementary schools within the city reaching 700 students weekly. In addition, Xóchitl is a teaching artist for the Incredible Children’s Art Network (ICAN), an El Sistema- based music program at Franklin Elementary School. She has also participated as a strings coach for Bravo! SBUSD Music Program and Santa Barbara Youth Mariachi Ensemble.

Prior to returning to her hometown, Xóchitl was an active educator and musician performing chamber music and world music throughout the Mid-Atlantic area.  While living in Washington, DC, she taught string orchestra at KIPP DC: AIM Academy, a high performing charter school for children in grades 5--8. In addition, Xóchitl served as visiting lecturer at Trinity Washington University and University of Maryland, College Park teaching various ethnomusicology classes.

Xóchitl holds a B.A. in Music from Scripps College with a concentration in violin and viola. She received her M.A. in Ethnomusicology from the University of Maryland, College Park researching the music of Bali. She is currently working on her teaching credential in music from California State University Northridge.

For more information on the Sistema Fellows Program at NEC, click here


Recognized nationally and internationally as a leader among music schools, New England Conservatory in Boston, MA offers rigorous training in an intimate, nurturing community to 720 undergraduate, graduate, and doctoral music students from around the world.  Its faculty of 225 boasts internationally esteemed artist-teachers and scholars.  Its alumni go on to fill orchestra chairs, concert hall stages, jazz clubs, recording studios, and arts management positions worldwide.  Nearly half of the Boston Symphony Orchestra is composed of NEC trained musicians and faculty.

The oldest independent school of music in the United States, NEC was founded in 1867 by Eben Tourjee. Its curriculum is remarkable for its wide range of styles and traditions.  On the college level, it features training in classical, jazz, contemporary improvisation, world and early music. Through its Preparatory School, School of Continuing Education, and Community Programs and Partnerships Program, it provides training and performance opportunities for children, pre-college students, adults, and seniors.  Through its outreach projects, it allows young musicians to engage with non-traditional audiences in schools, hospitals, and nursing homes—thereby bringing pleasure to new listeners and enlarging the universe for classical music, jazz, and contemporary improvisation.

NEC presents more than 900 free concerts each year, many of them in Jordan Hall, its world- renowned, century-old, beautifully restored concert hall.  These programs range from solo recitals to chamber music to orchestral programs to jazz, contemporary improvisation, and opera scenes.  Every year, NEC’s opera studies department also presents two fully staged opera productions at the Cutler Majestic Theatre or Paramount Theatre in Boston.

NEC is co-founder and educational partner of From the Top, a weekly radio program that celebrates outstanding young classical musicians from the entire country. With its broadcast home in Jordan Hall, the show is now carried by National Public Radio and is heard on 250 stations throughout the United States.


Contact: Ellen Pfeifer
Public Relations Manager
New England Conservatory
290 Huntington Ave.
Boston, MA 02115