Saturday, December 11, 2010

Last Week 2010

We only have one more week of seminars for 2010 and we will be spending most of it in New York visiting Anne Fitzgibbon's Harmony Program. Our schedule in New York is packed. Some of the highlights are dinner with Jamie Bernstein, a meeting with people at the League of American Orchestras, and a trip to the TED offices. All this in 3 days! After that we are back in Boston tying up loose ends and then breaking for the holidays. I am especially looking forward to this break because for me it means I get to see my daughter and my husband whom I've missed dearly these past months in Boston.

This past week we've been talking a lot about marketing, budgeting and fundraising. Ellen Pfeifer, NEC's public relations manager talked to us about press releases, mailing lists, and media. We also talked a lot about online marketing.

Now I have a list of things I need to get done in order to bring myself up to date with all the social media resources starting by linking all of my different accounts. I would like to invite all of you to follow me on twitter if you are not already.
You can follow me @ mariemontilla

I have a private profile on facebook but on my list is to create a facebook PAGE which I will let you know when it's up.  Until then, have a great weekend!

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Fact Finding

This past week, we've been talking about case-for-need documents in seminar. While Baltimore was filled with hands-on experience of working with children and seeing the difference music makes in their lives, this week we are focused on how the planning process can be the difference between success and failure.

As musicians and teaching artists we take so much for granted. We forget, or may even be unaware, of the amount of work that goes into planning to make our programs possible. If you work in a large arts organization like an orchestra, music conservatory, or even for a small music school or community music initiative, chances are you are aware of some of this to a degree. Theory of change and return on investment are two things I am focusing on this week. So many of us know about the benefits of El Sistema, so many of us are music education advocates, but how many of us really know about the theory behind the approach? How many of us can articulate well how music education can impact a child's world?

If you can change the possible outcomes, if you can change the educational trajectory of a child's life, that is the key element out of which everything else is driven. We can hypothesise, we can predict the outcomes, but part of our design is to study our own outcomes and that is where our successes await. "Organizations that are built well are built to learn".

Right now I am thinking a lot about outcomes. I am thinking a lot about attempting to change people's behaviour over time. That my friends is the "art of the possible".

I realize after all these weeks of seminars that I am in a "fact finding state". This of course is just a stage in the planning process, but I know now that it is an important stage. I am figuring out what it is that I can build, and more importantly, that I want to build something that can bring about change.

I feel that a lot of what we have been covering in seminars this year has been exploration. It is only now that I feel like I am at a "point of departure". This is the stage of development that I am in right now, and I look forward to sharing with you more on where I go from here.

I am starting to think like a program director and am filled with ideas worth building. I just want to end by saying this:

"That which can be built can be improved" I look forward to sharing my 'notes' with you.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Baltimore Deconstructed

A couple of weeks ago the Abreu Fellows went on a trip to Baltimore. We stayed at a lovely hostel at Peabody Conservatory and were hosted by the Baltimore Symphony's OrchKids program. We were invited guests brought in to teach and observe and this blog entry is about that experience. What is the  OrchKids program? It is an El Sistema inspired program running in West Baltimore. On their website it says they are "planting seeds for a bright future". They operate in an elementary school and offer after-school music instruction 5 days a week. They work in partnership with the school district, the symphony, and collaborate with the in-school music and band teachers.

I went to Baltimore not with a critical eye, but rather with a magnifying glass. Looking to observe and learn as much as I could, I found myself trying to identify the elements of El Sistema that were being applied successfully. After all, one of the recurring questions I hear from organizations interested in using the El Sistema model is "how can it be applied to our kids, our communities, we are not Venezuela". I was looking back at my notes from our session with Eric Booth from October and was reminded of two of the most important factors that define an El Sistema program:

#1. Fun
#2. Every Child is an Asset

I saw this in Baltimore. The kids are clearly having fun, they show up! All day in their classes they look forward to after-school when they get to play their instruments. And the system of equity that OrchKids uses is a simple structure that helps every child feel like an asset: equal inclusion! The performance we put together used the choir, the brass, the woodwinds, the strings, the bucket band, and even the pre-K and kindergarten students had their part. In our final performance we even gave the audience a part to play!

Another important element of El Sistema is the use of performances as a tool for teaching, which is why we didn't go to Baltimore for 5 days to observe, or just teach. We went to put together a performance. Yes, a performance! 10 Fellows, over 100 OrchKids, 5 days (dress rehearsal was on day 4!). This was the perfect example of music education happening on a stage.

The next point I would like to talk about is one that was highly debated amongst the Fellows: scaffolding. How do we build the steps towards accomplishments for the students to feel successful at every step? We had them play music we were sure they would be successful performing. This is education based on the pleasure system. Because we gave the kids music and parts they could master and do well in 4 days, their feelings of joy and satisfaction during and after the performance were very high.

In the end, our experience in Baltimore was one of great collaboration and unforgettable moments. We met great kids with "bright futures" and came back with a renewed sense of confidence.