Kudos to the Los Angeles Philharmonic for doing something both important and innovative:
The Los Angeles Philharmonic has seized the initiative in guiding a national teaching program based on El Sistema, the Venezuelan-based movement that weds music teaching and social work. The orchestra announced on Tuesday that it would open an office, host yearly conferences and support a training program to sustain the effort.
Bard College, in Annandale-on-Hudson, N.Y., and the Longy School of Music, in Cambridge, Mass., are joining the orchestra in a partnership to support the movement and will grant master’s degrees in teaching the Sistema method. Bard and Longy are in the process of merging.
The partnership will hire two staff members and serve as a national reference point for Sistema-style “nucleos,” as the individual teaching centers are called, said Deborah Borda, the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s president and chief executive officer…
The Philharmonic-Bard program, inspired by El Sistema, will be called Take a Stand. Its first major act will be a conference in Los Angeles from Jan. 30 to Feb. 1, involving participants from around the country. Then, starting in June, a first round of about 15 students will embark on a one-year master’s program, spending much of their time working at the Philharmonic’s Sistema-like project, the Youth Orchestra Los Angeles, and at a charter school in Delano, Calif., associated with Bard, said Karen Zorn, Longy’s president. Longy and Bard are developing the curriculum…
The new program fills a void created this year when the New England Conservatory in Boston divorced itself from a nascent effort to organize the loosely related programs around the country called El Sistema U.S.A. That effort grew out of a New England Conservatory program to train 10 fellows a year in El Sistema’s methods. That program is in its third of five years.
The two programs, Ms. Borda said, are not in conflict. The New England Conservatory’s fellows are learning how to administer nucleos, she said, while Take a Stand students will study how to teach in them.
“I think they’re complementary,” she added. “This is different from El Sistema U.S.A., in that it’s three organizations that have very specific resources and will undertake very specific work.”
Ms. Borda said that the program would cost in excess of $1 million a year and that financing for it was being built into the Philharmonic’s regular budget.
It’s the last paragraph that proves that this is a serious effort. In this business, a commitment to spend $1 million annually on a new program is uncommon, to say the least. Obviously it doesn’t hurt that the LA Phil is in an unusually healthy financial state for orchestras these days. But this is a risk that few orchestras would take even if they could. Let’s hope it pays off in the many ways that it could for everyone involved.