The World Ensemble
Dear Subscribers to The World Ensemble ,

Happy New Year! Here is your January issue of The World Ensemble. It brings you tidings of a brand new program in Papua, New Guinea; a growing program in Africa; and a prestigious award given to the founder of ten-year-old Sistema Scotland.  

We also bring you a vivid account of the Simon Bolívar Orchestra of Venezuela on its recent tour of Russia. And in two articles—the editorial and the description of a new program promoting global connection—we remind you that our work succeeds best when we actively support one another across borders and across the world.

As always, SEND US STUFF ! Share your news and stories with your colleagues in the Sistema movement around the world.

The WE Team 
Editorial: Athens to Texas: "We're With You"
by Tricia T unst all , Co-Founder and Executive Editor
Over the past few months, some El Sistema activists in the United States have been mobilizing resources to launch an El Sistema program this month for immigrant children in Tornillo, Texas, who are living in the acute stress of the border crisis. Raising money for this has been a challenge; a music industry charity, the NAMM (National Association of Music Merchants) Foundation, recently came through with sufficient support with help from the Leonard Bernstein Foundation, but many funders with deep pockets don’t understand how ensemble music learning can alleviate a humanitarian crisis.

El Sistema Greece understands. ESG is only three years old, with exactly no deep pockets, but its programs in refugee camps and migrant communities have shown how profoundly this work can help young people in traumatic circumstances. Last week, El Sistema Greece reached out and donated $1,500 to help make El Sistema a reality for the children of Tornillo.

Meet "The Queen of Paradise Orchestra": A New Program in Papua New Guinea
by Tricia Tunstall
In 1975, the year El Sistema was founded in Venezuela, a tiny new country was founded on the other side of the world: Papua New Guinea. One of the world’s least explored and most rural nations, PNG would seem to have little in common with the homeland of El Sistema. But in 2019, El Sistema came to Papua New Guinea.

The story begins in 2016, when Father Miguel de la Calle, an Argentinian priest who leads a Catholic mission in Papua New Guinea, and his colleagues, Father Martín Prado and Father Tomás Ravioli, decided to create an orchestra for the children in their village of Vanimo. Father Miguel traveled to the Philippines to observe the El Sistema program Ang Misyon; inspired by what he saw, he resolved to bring El Sistema to Vanimo.
Share Your Time & Talent: Sistema Connect 
by Graciela Briceno, Founder and Board Member, Josiah Quincy Orchestra Program; Former Managing Editor, The World Ensemble
Looking for a meaningful New Year’s Resolution that will benefit children and your own musical journey? Sign up to become a Sistema Connect Volunteer and help an emerging El Sistema program, whether through travel or from the comfort of your home. Sistema Connect is a new initiative founded in the U.S.; its mission is to connect people who want to share their skills with programs who need those skills.
The first time an El Sistema colleague asked me for advice, I was unsure of whether I had anything worthwhile to share. Nevertheless, we met one afternoon over coffee and spent hours describing our experiences and struggles with fundraising, managing staff and building a board of directors. We found the conversation mutually beneficial, thinking through challenges and problem-solving together. A few months later, an El Sistema program in Kenya asked if I would spend a month of my summer helping them launch a strings program. The following year, a program in the Philippines asked if I would facilitate a week-long training for teachers.

The Bolivars Bring Their New Sound to Russia
by Anis Barnat, Associate Project Manager, Askonas Holt, and Founder, El Sistema Greece 
The Bolívars are back!

In December 2019, the 155-member Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela, led by Maestro Christian Vasquez, were invited to perform in Russia. It was the first official tour since March 2017 for this orchestra, and a real celebration for their return to the international scene.

For this tour, the repertoire chosen was a selection of South American flavors along with Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 5. The Latin American first half opened with a contemporary piece by Venezuelan composer Paul Desenne ( Hipnosis Mariposa ) and the El Sistema classic Tres versiones sinfónicas , by Julián Orbón. Bringing Tchaikovsky to Russian soil is a courageous statement, as it shows the respect the orchestra has for the host country, and the Venezuelan determination to bring its interpretation of this symphonic masterpiece. To finish on a high note, the encore was the illustrious Venezuelan anthem Alma Llanera , which brought the audience members to their feet, joyfully clapping in rhythm!

Key Learning from the Field: Trust and Empower Your Community
by Jason Steinberg, Founder, International Sports and Music Project
In the summer of 2014, I arrived on a rainforest island called Pohnpei, in Micronesia (a country in the region of Oceania) to teach high school English. When the school lacked the resources to enable students to explore their passions for music and basketball, the students and I started looking for solutions. This initiative evolved into The International Sports and Music Project (ISMP), an organization that uses sports and music as powerful tools for mental health. 

Since then, ISMP has come a long way. We have incorporated as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, moved into an office in Brooklyn, and launched sports/music programs at several other sites—including multiple Syrian refugee camps in Greece, a homeless shelter for teenagers in New York City, and two shelters for children in Rwanda. Each of our programs is custom-built to address the specific interests and passions of the people in each community. As such, our programs range from traditional warrior ballet to basketball clinics to guitar jam sessions. 

Nicola Killean Awarded OBE in New Year Honours List
Congratulations to Nicola Killean, Founder and CEO of Sistema Scotland, who has recently been awarded an Order of the British Empire (OBE). She was selected by a special committee and approved by the Queen and Prime Minister, in the New Year Honours List for 2020, for her services to music, children and community cohesion. OBE recipients are awarded based on their contributions to the arts and sciences, work with charitable and welfare organizations, and public service.

Nicola was the Founding Director of Sistema Scotland when it was established in 2007, and since then has led a dedicated staff and volunteers to accomplish numerous large goals, including:

  • designing and implementing the original Big Noise program model in Raploch, Scotland, in 2007.

  • hosting the Simon Bolívar Orchestra of Venezuela in a massive side-by-side open-air concert kickoff to the 2012 Olympic Arts Festival.

  • taking a 60-student Big Noise orchestra to Venezuela in 2013

  • working with municipal and academic partners to develop a significant body of strong research. Results indicated that the program has positive social/emotional impacts on the children and their families. A cost/benefit analysis reported that within 15 years, the Big Noise program in Glasgow would save the city a total of £29 million.

  • continuing program growth and expansion to include four sites across Scotland.

The Ambassadors' Exchange
The WE Ambassadors are a group of El Sistema student musicians who serve as representatives of their programs around the world.
Stephen Ongoma, Ghetto Classics, Nairobi, Kenya
“A Ten-Year Celebration of Youth Orchestras in Kenya”

Ten years ago, the Kenyan Art of Music Foundation was established to help nurture the talents of young Kenyan musicians from humble backgrounds. As a result, three of Kenya’s best orchestras were formed during the decade: Ghetto Classics, Kenya National Youth Orchestra, and Safaricom Youth Orchestra.

To celebrate this progress, the three orchestras came together in 2019. They were joined in performance by renowned Polish hip-hop producer Jimek and by Jorge Viladoms, a great Mexican pianist of the 21st century. As we know, music has no boundaries.  Making music makes a difference!
Matthew Jones, England
“The Manchester University Outreach Orchestra”

On November 23, 2019, students from the University of Manchester made their way to a local primary school, St Joseph’s, to put on a concert they would never forget!

The Manchester University Music Society (MUMS) Outreach Orchestra is a small orchestra brought together on a project-by-project basis. We go into primary schools where music is often quite a neglected part of the school curriculum, to give the children an opportunity to engage with an orchestra in an entirely new, fun way. This year I have the pleasure of running this fantastic orchestra – for sure the toughest logistical role I’ve had so far in the musical world, as I found out from organising this first concert! From printing scores/parts to creating a positive, team environment within the group, I’ve learned a lot from this project.

Linet Othieno, Ghetto Classics, Nairobi, Kenya
It’s been a very busy month full of performances and master classes! First, we were visited by the famous Ebene String Quartet from France. Members of the quartet led the string section for a week, and on their last visit, they performed some of their favorite music for us.

Following their visit, we had a one-week intensive that brought together three orchestras run as the Art of Music Foundation (as mentioned by Stephen, as well). The Kenya National Youth Orchestra, Ghetto Classics Orchestra and the Safaricom Youth Orchestra all came together to celebrate their 10th anniversaries as ensembles.

Thank you for reading! 

Be on the lookout for additional resources and news later this month.

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