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Monday, July 2, 2012

Wrap-up 2011-12 and MY NEW ORCHESTRA!

Well, its done. The RIF notice was not rescinded, so I am going to the junior high school full time. Because there are no other instrumental programs that feed into Roosevelt High School, it is good that I am teaching instrumental music to grades 7-8. By June, I had started about 160 students on strings and winds. Many of them will take my classes again for eighth grade, and hopefully, at least 50 will sign up for band or orchestra when they become Freshman in 2013. Its going to be a huge shot in the arm for the marching band, jazz band, orchestra and mariachi programs at the high school where enrollments and quality have been decreasing with the scheduling conflicts and lack of elementary and middle school programs.

So that feels good.

What does not feel good is teaching 42 beginners aged 12-13 who don't have respect for equipment and/or authority. I feel old when I say it, but times have changed. Students talk back and try to convince you that they weren't doing anything wrong, that you are being unfair. They lack control over their bodies and show no remorse when speakers break, or horns are dropped. One student who had not been given permission to get out of her seat, walked passed me while I was playing the trumpet to the class and pushed it into my face as she tried to shield herself from the sound. She talked back as I reprimanded through the pain in my face. When I have a substitute, students run around the room, go in the practice room without permission, steal things from each other, eat food and chew gum, walk out of the room without asking, and generally do whatever they want.

Its very tiring. Classes are over an hour long which doesn't vibe with the adolescent attention span of four minutes. The only way to survive is to lower standards and just get through they day. It doesn't feel good.

I'm going to focus on the slight majority of students who want to play and learn music and have the confidence to do so. They deserve my best attention and I intend to give it.


The other saving grace is my El Sisteme orchestra that we have started this summer. What a complete contrast to my normal classes of students who did or did not sign up for music! Michael Hudson-Medina and I started the Boyle Heights Community Youth Orchestra (BHCYO) last week on a wing and a prayer. We are doing this for free to get the program started, to show the need for such an activity on our community so that donors see the importance of music. As Gustavo Dudmel says: Music Saves Lives.

We set registration on June 26, hoping for 40, expecting 20. We got 65! it is amazing. These kids come to school at 9am and stay until 12pm completely excited to learn music and play an orchestra instrument. We have showed them the videos of Dudamel conducting the Simon Bolivar Orchestra, telling them they will be like this if they practice. We teach them singing, rhythm, notation, and of course, playing. They will learn the violin, flute or trumpet for now before switching to the other instruments as they wish and as their bodies grow.

My teaching is completely rejuvenated. They love it and they learn so fast. It takes an entire semester to teach my regular students basic notation and rhythm. These 6-11 year-olds have it after a week! I am challenged every minute with everything I know about pedagogy to keep up with them. We were so swamped, I had to call for help and now have four volunteers from professionals (Thanks, Andrea!) to recent high school grads walking around to correct and guide, leading small groups, and taking students to the bathroom. The parents have been wonderful, so excited and grateful that this free program is bringing such great education to their children.

I hope to chronicle this process to show how simple and profound it is. This is the most beautiful and pure exchange of human energy I have every had the privilege to witness. Through music, these children are tapping into the pulse of the universe, what makes us all tick. They are looking into a mirror and seeing themselves reflected back with value, skill, and beauty. And this is only one neighborhood, in one city, in one country. Two adults. Could you imagine if these were everywhere? We would end war, have no need for prisons, and hear music from all around us, everywhere, rather than the silence that surrounds each person who has a small metal device attached to her head.

I have been reading the book written about El Sisteme called "Changing Lives." I have been going to workshops and visiting rehearsals in LAfor four years to train to lead my own group. I have been watching videos and talking to the people on the ground level from Venezuela, Columbia and Brazil. But none of that could prepare me for the reality of watching it unfold firsthand, for creating the actual space where the actual children come who can't wait to learn their next note. The music is saving them, and they are saving me.

If you are in LA, please come by. You will leave with a smile on your face that will not fade. And, hopefully, you will ask yourself: What can I do?    A look at El Sisteme

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