A little over a year ago, one of our young musicians accompanied our music director, Alicia Stevenson, to a School Committee meeting so that members could hear first-hand how beautifully our children make music. Instead of giving a brief performance at the beginning of the meeting, the young student waited through the business of the board, increasingly restless. Alicia gave him some drawing materials to help pass the time, and this is what he drew: a young violinist on the stage with the mayor and the School Committee behind, and the audience in front of him. From their heads he drew bubbles, cartoon-like, and in the bubbles were the words, “Wow,” and “What a great player” and “He’s really good!” The bubble over the mayor’s head read, “I’m your #1 fan!”
With his drawing, this child let us in on one of the most important benefits of an El Sistema-inspired music program. It changes the child’s view of him or herself. This little boy, and all our students, learn they are capable of making beautiful music through hard work, teamwork, and sticking with it, even if sometimes it gets frustrating and difficult. In addition, their brains are getting amazing exercise. Young musicians must learn to read the new language of notes and teach their bodies to translate notes into sounds. They listen to pitch and make adjustments to get it right. They watch and responding to a conductor, and coordinate with others to create sound, rhythm and emotion. These musicians engage and develop every part of the brain.
Whew! No wonder children who experience El Sistema inspired music programs, through their own individual efforts and with their peers in ensembles, make gains academically and socially. And what’s more, they have the joy of bringing beautiful music into the hearts of people around them. What could be better than that?
Carolyn M. Newberger, Ed.D.
Clinical and Developmental Psychologist
Harvard Medical School
Carolyn is also a Kids 4 Harmony Advisory Committee Member and Board Member for Berkshire Children and Families