I'm a jaded New Yorker. I see all the big movies and plays and can talk a good game with anyone else who saw them. I admit, a Venezuelan documentary entitled Play and Fight would not be on my list of musts.
But I saw it and wow. The lives of the people in the documentary have been changed, and now we get to try to do the same for a couple of hundred kids in Queens next month.
Alvaro Rodas is one of 10 special people in the inaugural class from the New England Conservatory of Music. I met him shortly after he came here to plant some seeds and build "El Sistema" -- probably best known because of the advocacy of Los Angeles Philharmonic Music Director Gustavo Dudamel -- to our own local kids. Alvaro, former principal percussionist at the Guatemalan National Symphony and teacher at the National Conservatory (directing a high school marching band of 80) and, for 15 years, working with others on how to replicate the program of helping children through music and now right here in America. He had no financing or location. He knew he'd find the answers once he got into the local community.
He found Corona, Queens, so here comes El Sistema. The local children will be treated to a free music camp (with parents and teachers volunteering and participating), and then up to 300 kids will be part of a community chorus on August 21.
I hope Corona embraces this as much as the schools and parents have thus far. It will set the tone and perhaps serve as a template for other communities within our city. Boston, Los Angeles, Atlanta, Juneau and Philadelphia are taking on similar non-profit community programs for their kids overseen by the fellow members of the first class of graduates. There's a lot of brochure-type language about how the programs will be building valuable members of our community and our society and how we will be empowering young and participating in a collective experience. They are going to learn and have fun and grow as people. That's what's so super.
I saw the movie and met Alvaro. Our kids aren't being talked down to with simple songs like "Twinkle Twinkle." They're taking on Beethoven and Mahler and learning how to collaborate, become team members and accept responsibility along with it and teach each other.
Fortunately, the tuition-free program includes training workshops for music teachers and choral conductors from area schools in Queens. For 10 days, there will be camp, field trips, rehearsals and a concert for their families, friends, teachers and the community. Sanna Valvanne, the renowned children's conductor from Finland, will lead the choir and work with local teachers, too.
I'm getting to like the term "experiential learning" more because I get to see what it is. Wouldn't it be terrific if ten people emerge from Queens and Philadelphia and Los Angeles and take what they've learned to benefit other children, and then 10 more pass it on and take it elsewhere and keep building it around the world? That's what has been happening. It's in Scotland and England already as well as a good part of South America.
New Yorkers, come on down to the Louis Armstrong House Museum for the concert. And, if you have children between nine and 15, or are a teacher who can benefit, go for it. The program will accommodate 300 children, so there's room for more.
Bravo, Corona Youth. Can't wait to see you and hear you. Go for it!
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