El Sistema Brings Success to Teaching Partnership
Teaching music is what gave me back my passion. After performing professionally and getting my Masters, I was completely burnt out of playing, I never wanted to pick up an instrument again. But teaching was a new challenge, a new joy. It asked me to work backwards, to go back to the basics and think about music in a way I hadn’t in a long time. It renewed my love of music.” -Katie Swaydis, Longy School of Music at Bard MAT Graduate Student
HOLA’s campus is bustling with partnerships. While some aren’t necessarily new to the neighborhood, their roots have grown stronger with each passing year.
One of these partnerships in particular, an innovative 12-month Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT) program HOLA’s campus, Longy School of Music at Bard College utilizes the strong presence of YOLA (LA Phil) here at HOLA. Focusing on the internationally known El Sistema philosophy, Venezuela’s revolutionary music teaching method that uses music as “a powerful agent of social change, capable of inspiring children, families, and communities to realize their potential and break the cycle of poverty”, graduate students are given unique tools and techniques to pass along in their curricula. During each semester, Longy students commit six hours a week to observing and assisting in classrooms HOLA and coaching the chamber group on Saturdays.
Katie Swaydis, a French horn player of fourteen years has been enrolled in the program since July. Witnessing first hand the positive influence of El Sistema and YOLA at HOLA, Katie attributes much of its success to the respectful engagement teachers have with the students’ community.
Katie explains, “I think what impresses me the most is the culture of consciousness that is very unique to this program… there is an integration of the existing culture, and a respect for where the students come from. In practice, this means choosing a repertoire that is nontraditional and flexible. It means being humble enough to try a new method created by someone not from the U.S.”
In El Sistema-inspired pedagogy, students are not intimidated by classical music (a rarity) and allows students the space to flourish. She comments, “El Sistema has found a way to eliminate the fear a lot of students have in classical music classes. By not singling students out — by asking them to play in a group instead of putting them on the spot, this fearlessness is really something effective this program has created.”
Katie’s Longy co-grad Hillary Harder, a talented violinist, also appreciates the El Sistema technique employed by YOLA at HOLA instructors. Specifically, the theory of “conscious discipline,” which entails affirmative encouragement, eye contact and touch, logical consequences, and giving students agency over their own learning.
“This kind of instruction instills a sense of community, safety, structure, and warmth,” Hillary says.
Last week, a learning opportunity arose for Hillary when she was asked to design a music workshop to teach at central juvenile hall.
“It was an extremely humbling experience. I remember asking the girls to share a favorite song, and one girl said, “I’ve been locked up for so long I don’t have one.” The girls were so honest and open about their experiences, and so engaged and present. It gave me a lot to think about,” Hillary shares of the experience.
In addition to learning from the teachers’ strategies they have observed at HOLA, Hillary and Katie explain that teaching has changed their relationship to music. Giving more depth, Hillary says, “As a student, it was about personal growth, honing by own skills — now it’s about making an impact, and the way my musical talent can help kids transform their own lives.”
For Katie, music has always had transformative potential – for herself, and now for her students. “In my own life, music has allowed me to access travel and higher education, a kind of upward mobility I probably wouldn’t have had otherwise.” After a pause, she adds,“YOLA at HOLA has the potential to offer this same benefit to our students.”