A visit from Kenneth Jones-Madrid

The Venezuelan Embassy had arranged for Kenneth to visit the school in Melbourne, and flew him, his uncle, who lives in Australia and the Cultural Attache from the Venezuelan Embassy down to Melbourne.

Jeff Bell, the wonderful Principal of Laverton College, had organised, in response to this visit, to move the full school assembly from Friday to Wednesday to allow for Kenneth to play for the school and for us to meet the school community – which ranges in age from 6-19, and from dozens and dozens of cultural and ethnic backgrounds. Laverton College embraces a wonderful multicultural diversity within its student community and the wider community of Laverton.

Jeff introduced us all, and I gave a short speech about the program we are establishing – then I introduced Kenneth Jones-Madrid. He played a beautiful and complex piece of Bach ( if you want to hear the music, not as played by Kenneth, but the same piece, here ).

His performance went for about 6-7 minutes.

I was watching the faces of the 600 kids and young people as they watched him and listened to him playing. Most were spellbound, some pretending not to be, but all was as quiet as quiet. And still.

As Kenneth finished… the hall erupted into loud and continuous applause, woohooing, whistling and even a bit of screaming! It was like the kind of reception you’d get for a rock-star!

He played another short piece as an encore and the same again. In fact the applause kept coming back.

Several teachers said they had never seen such a reaction from the school before.

I certainly wasn’t expecting it – and nor was Kenneth; he said he hadn’t experienced that before from an audience!

This is so tremendously encouraging, because it means the kids are quite wonderfully accepting of such music, and the program has been boosted by such a reaction. The kids were invited to ask questions for the last five minutes and really asked some very good ones! Even Jeff was impressed by them!

Considerable thanks to Jeff and Steve and the other teachers for organising this at such short notice. And thanks for looking after the Venezuelans so well – they were very touched and impressed by the school and its hospitality. As was I!

Onward and upward!

Christopher A Nicholls
Director
Sistema Australia Inc.

Office: PO Box 4240 Manuka ACT 2603, Australia
P: +61 (0)2 6495 1093
M: +61 (0) 418 487322
E: chrisn@sistemaaustralia.com.au

W: http://www.sistemaaustralia.com.au

An Update on the First El Sistema-based program for Australia

Abreu introduced Venezuelan children of all ages and circumstance to wonderful orchestral and choral music programmes: “El Sistema” – “The System” was born. It is music for all children regardless of ability or inability. Venezuela is now a society in transformation – social action through music. As a wonderful bi-product it has also become the most exciting place in the world from the perspective of classical music and music education. See: http://www.fesnojiv.gob.ve/en/el-sistema

The system has now been established throughout Venezuela and is open to all communities – to any child wishing to participate, committing to practice and to learn. There are now over 350,000 children engaged in this program. In addition it has now spread to 25 other countries around the world including the USA, England, Scotland and Canada– successfully.

Sistema Australia’s Programs
Influenced by this tremendous success and the creation of such a wonderful music system in Venezuela, a group of Australian musicians, music educators and interested others have decided to create an Australian version – to provide a joyous music education program for Australian children. It will focus primarily on those less fortunate communities in Australia but eventually will extend to all Australian children who want to learn and play music. As a community-based program it engages the child, the parent and the community as a whole, in its process.

It is important on so many levels to give children music– Music gives children a boost to their humanity, to their ability to relate positively with others and their community. It helps build their self-confidence and their ability to imagine and realise good futures, to follow their passions and be ultimately successful. Why? Because it is through the rigours of music, learning to sing and to play an instrument with others in an ensemble that we learn about ourselves – and in the context of others, we learn what it is to strive for something beautiful and difficult. We learn inestimable ‘joy’ and avoid future pain and suffering from the lack of such experiences and qualities in our society.

The Laverton Project
Our first pilot program in Australia, which is planned for introduction in 2011 in Laverton, Victoria, is a four-way partnership between the following:

Laverton P-12 College
Laverton P-12 College’s students are from a low socio-economic area and their readiness to learn is affected by a range of circumstances including lack of preschool experiences, family unemployment and other challenging welfare issues. Many students are at risk of not achieving success at school due to poor literacy skills. Many of the parents have poor literacy skills themselves. There are 32 different languages making up 179 of their students. A large and increasing ESL group including new arrivals from the Burmese/Karen community are at greater risk. Many children are at long term risk of disassociation, drugs, alcoholism and criminal activity.

Sistema Australia
Provides tailored instrument-based music/social education programs developing orchestras and choirs for disadvantaged children.

Hobsons Bay City Council
Arts and Culture Unit and Laverton Community Renewal work with the community to resolve issues that impact on access and participation, to promote and enhance community pride and sense of belonging and assist in delivering annual community cultural development projects. Laverton Community Renewal is a state government initiative addressing issues of social disadvantage faced by the residents of the community of Laverton and will support Laverton P-12 Music program through active participation on working group and through communication and marketing.

Victoria Police – Community Liaison
Hobsons Bay Police acts as a community leader, providing in-kind support for the program including involvement of police on a regular and casual basis to attend programs and, one or more of the three Victoria Police Bands as a resource for the project.

Partnering with Sistema Australia, the Victorian Police Community Liaison, Hobsons Bay Council and Laverton Community Renewal, gives the school a wonderful and powerful opportunity to engage many children, bringing them to work together in ‘concert’ as members of orchestras and choirs which meet and act as little communities. They are also about discipline, teamwork and fun, without the penalty and fear of further loss, failure, and or violence that is often associated with their society and young lives. The program is being developed exclusively for Laverton P-12 College. It will be run initially as a 3-day per week after-school program – free to the children.

The Principal of the school, Jeff Bell is completely and enthusiastically behind it, and wants to extend it from the initial pilot of 50-100 kids, to the whole school eventually.

Supporting Organisations and Individuals
Along with these, there are several other organisations and individuals who are assisting in various ways, including the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra (free concerts for the children in the Laverton project), Richard Tognetti and the Australian Chamber Orchestra (school visits and concerts), Jonathon Welch and the Choir of Hope and Inspiration/Choir of Hard Knocks (choir and singing workshops), the Victorian Police Band (wind and brass workshops), and several other prominent Australian and international musicians. We are also commissioning a film production company to make a documentary of the progress of this program. The Venezuelan Embassy has also pledged to help with liaison with the Venezuelan headquarters of El Sistema and Maestro Abreu himself has signaled that they will do what they can, to help us with our program.

Project Funding
It is early days, but the first year of the program is fully funded, by Sistema Australia, Victoria Police Community Programs, and the Hobsons Bay Council ~ $75,000. So far (including the Laverton project), Sistema Australia has contributed over $100,000 in developing it. External funding will be required to maintain and expand it as it progresses.
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