1. Unit 1: Introduction to El Sistema
El Sistema is a transformational music education program, begun in 1975 in Venezuela, that has helped hundreds of thousands of children in poverty envision a brighter future for themselves. Now programs are growing across the US with the same goal — to foster musical excellence and citizenship. At a New York City seminario, beginners play with musicians from the Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela. In Union City, NJ, parents help their children build paper violins to use before playing real instruments. And preschoolers begin to build skills in an ensemble, learning the importance of community. Go to this unit.
2. Unit 2: Violin Basics
At Glacier Valley Elementary in Juneau, Alaska, Lorrie Heagy started a Sistema-inspired program to provide all kindergarten and first grade students with an amazing opportunity — to play violin. She builds a carefully scaffolded arc of learning that takes them from holding a paper violin to developing the skills necessary to play a real instrument in an ensemble. From joyful songs that teach how to hold the violin, to finger play that strengthens finger and arm muscles, Lorrie adapts a variety of pedagogical strategies in service of the Sistema mission. Go to this unit.
3. Unit 3: Growing a Program
In Queens, New York, the mission of the Corona Youth Music Project is to transform the neighborhood through music. The project embodies the Sistema idea that programs serve and respond to the needs of a community, and build on a community’s assets. Students develop leadership skills while mentoring peers. Parents and volunteers are a constant presence providing the children support. And the young musicians and their teachers give back to the community by performing for their neighbors. Go to this unit.
4. Unit 4: Nurturing the Ensemble
Rigorous rehearsal techniques that emphasize joy and responsibility, rather than competition and individual success, are at the heart of the ensemble in Sistema-inspired programs. The Youth Orchestra Los Angeles — or YOLA — is a program of the Los Angeles Philharmonic. In sectionals, teaching artists challenge students to tackle scales and chromatics, building skills that enable them to master a challenging repertoire. Their hard work culminates in a powerful Neighborhood Project Day Concert, which galvanizes the community in the spirit of music. Go to this unit.
5. Unit 5: Building Community
The mission of the Los Angeles Philharmonic's educational initiatives is to provide disadvantaged youngsters with access to musical experiences they would not have otherwise. Emily Kubitsky and Nikki Shorts use a curriculum built around "A Song of Peace" from Sibelius's Finlandia. Their lessons introduce students to music from around the world, and to making music in an ensemble using boomwhackers. Students share an extraordinary Sistema-inspired experience as they join musicians from the Youth Orchestra Los Angeles to perform "A Song of Peace" at a moving community concert. Go to this unit.
6. Unit 6: Chorus and Other Ensembles
Although orchestra is at the center of Sistema programs, other kinds of ensembles provide students with rich music-making experiences. The AMPlify afterschool program in Atlanta is founded on the idea of transformation through singing. At Glacier Valley Elementary in Juneau, Alaska, ensembles include rock band, African drumming, step dance, and Tlingit dancing and drumming. These ensembles provide unique pathways for students to learn, grow, and perform together joyfully. Go to this unit.
7. Unit 7: Getting Rhythm
Music educators in all kinds of learning contexts help students to learn the basics of rhythm and notation. In Juneau, Alaska, Lorrie Heagy incorporates narrative and movement to help make such abstract concepts accessible to her diverse general music class of third graders. True to the ideas embedded in El Sistema, learning is done in an ensemble. Getting rhythm through a group composition is a collaborative endeavor. Go to this unit.
8. Unit 8: Composing Music
Teaching music composition — critical to developing musical literacy — is a challenge for many educators. It has recently emerged as a focus for El Sistema in Venezuela. There, and at PS 11 in Brooklyn, New York, composers and teaching artists Jon Deak and Angélica Negrón infuse the Sistema philosophy into their groundbreaking work with young composers. Their approach is based on the fundamental belief that all children are inherently musical and there is no limit to what they can achieve. Go to this unit.