The people I miss the most: children! Finally this week we were able to take all of our learning through the fellowship and previous experiences and get down and dirty with it in the real world! My mother loves digging in the dirt more than she loves knowing the names of all her plants. Me too!
We spent the week at Lockerman Bundy Elementary school in inner-city Baltimore, MD. The school is home to OrchKids, the El Sistema nucleo of the Baltimore Symphony. We were fortunate to be there at the same time as a colorful drumming duo from World in Motion, an outreach program of the London-based Guildhall School of Music and Drama.
This week we were with the kids during snack, tutoring, Bucket Band (a BRILLIANT cheap way to teach rhythm and have fun! It’s exactly what it sounds like, a drum line on buckets), pre-K string class, Creative Ensemble, string orchestra, and their special workshops where we all to the man were banging our hearts out on Samba drums.
Our questions this week were simple: what do you notice about the children? What programs are working well, and why? Being immersed in their classes, I was deeply impressed by the way the children took care of one another. They corrected rhythm and posture, they encouraged one another to take solos in front of the class and in performance in front of over a hundred kids and parents. The love and attention they were receiving from adults they were imparting on each other.
I had my doubts about the schedule put together by OrchKids, the kids were kept after school until about 6 pm every day, with the school day ending at three. For up to three hours almost every day of the week, the OrchKids are in musicianship classes, exploratory instrumental instruction (this week disguised as a party on drums…), and string and wind ensembles. Every day it wasn’t until about 5:45 that I heard the first “are we done yet?” Impressive attention span these 4-7 year-olds have…
As part of our work this year, we will be the authors of a collection of essays on our “passion points”, the aspect of El Sistema which intrigues us most. I am following El Sistema as a national movement, and how as a grass-roots effort local social change efforts are being “sistematized” across the world. As part of my research, I interviewed the parent liaison and office assistant at Lockerman Bundy, Ms. Shirley Dessesow. She was essential to bringing the OrchKids program to the school, an active advocate for the program with parents and school administrators. She has been touched by how the program is inspiring hope in the community, and that kids are the impetus for this positive change. She hears back about the positive happenings at her school through stories from ministers and people on the street that they heard from their neighbors, who heard from their children that they want instruments for Christmas. The kids’ love of music is changing the family conversation, which is changing the neighborhood conversations. It’s this kind of ground up (well, kid’s height up) change that has given her hope that some of the abandoned row houses across from the school might be converted into an arts space for children, and would bring homeowners back to this abandoned part of Baltimore. Hope and change seems to be working here too.