Update: The Johnson String Project

JSP Logo

 

For more information on El Sistema, please visit our previous post.

Formed in the spring of 2015, The Johnson String Project is a non-profit organization based on the Johnson String Instrument rental model and designed to offer the same level of service and high-quality instruments to children in under-serviced communities that all JSI customers have come to expect.

The efforts of the Massachusetts Cultural Council are what make this possible. Through their SerHacer initiative, the MCC was able to distribute grants to qualifying El Sistema inspired programs across the Commonwealth. The Johnson String Project received $30,000 through SerHacer as well as generous private donations.  This combination of public and private funding will be used to supply rental instruments for these programs.

Our mission at The Johnson String Project is supporting El Sistema-inspired string programs in under-serviced communities in Massachusetts. One of the largest barriers these programs face is obtaining high-quality instruments. Through the development of our instrument lending library, we strive to ease these financial burdens and provide access to this crucial piece of the musical experience.

To learn more about the Johnson String Project, check out our video

Copyright © 2015 · All Rights Reserved · Silvija Kristapsons

See the Johnson String Project in Action!

Johnson String Instrument is a proud supporter of the Johnson String Project. Our goal is to bring high quality, well-maintained instruments to under-served children throughout Massachusetts. See our program in action by watching the video below. For more information, please visit our website.

 

The Johnson String Project

The Johnsons have  a long history of serving music programs throughout the state. Though Johnson String Instrument already serves a growing number of El Sistema-inspired programs, we have been searching for a way to better serve these and other programs that cater to culturally under-served communities. Founder Carol Johnson discovered in conversations with various program directors that many have a hard time getting enough funding for the instruments they used as well as their upkeep. From this need and desire comes JSI’s newest endeavor: The Johnson String Project. As a non-profit organization operated out of JSI, the String Project is designed to offer the same level of service and high-quality instruments that all JSI customers have come to expect at discounted rates for qualifying programs. This will allow the program to assist El Sistema and other initiatives aimed at under-serviced communities based on individual needs.

 

The efforts of the Massachusetts Cultural Council are what make this organization possible. Through their SerHacer initiative, the MCC was able to distribute a set amount of funds to the programs and the Johnson String Project through grants. In order to qualify for the grant, programs must meet specific requirements outlined by the organization, the most important of which being that they serve a high-needs community. The funds received by Johnson String Project are dedicated to the rental and purchase of instruments for these programs.

 

There are a few key differences between the Johnson String Project rentals and the JSI rental program. What makes the String Project more beneficial to these initiatives is that all rentals are discounted by 30%. In addition, 100% of the rental cost is given back in equity annually, as opposed to only the first year. This allows the programs to build equity more quickly in order to purchase the instruments sooner rather than later. Each program’s yearly rentals are covered by the MCC grant, and they can rent as many instruments as the grant money covers. Once the instruments have been purchased, programs pay a maintenance fee so that they can continue to be serviced by the String Project. Since instrument repairs sometimes become costly, this helps to ensure the longevity of instruments owned by the program at a price that the programs can sustain.
The overall goal of the Johnson String Project is an expansion of Johnson String Instrument’s belief that all students are entitled to a high-quality instrument. The condition of the instrument should not deter a child’s love of music. It is our hope that the Johnson String Project, in partnership with SerHacer and the Massachusetts Cultural Council, will foster that love through El Sistema-inspired and similar programs for years to come.

Copyright © 2015 · All Rights Reserved · Silvija Kristapsons

El Sistema in Massachusetts

This post discusses El Sistema-inspired programs located in Massachusetts. For more information about El Sistema in Venezuela and the United States, please see our previous post, What is El Sistema?

 

Eight of the country’s registered El Sistema programs are located in Massachusetts, with the majority being in the Greater Boston area. Programs are located in Boston, Somerville, Cambridge, Roslindale, Pittsfield, Dorchester, Hyde Park, Roxbury, and Jamaica Plain. Each program serves a different type of community, but almost all of them serve schools where the majority of children are on free or reduced lunches or communities that are left needing in other ways. Five of Massachusetts’ programs operate within Boston Public Schools: El Sistema at Conservatory Lab, Josiah Quincy Orchestra Program, Bridge Boston, Margarita Muniz Academy, and musiConnects.

 

New England Conservatory has historically been a supporter of national El Sistema-inspired programs. From 2009-2014, the school had a Sistema Fellows Program, also referred to until 2011 as the Abreu Fellows Program. It was designed as a professional training program to prepare students to create, head, manage, and teach an El Sistema-inspired program in both the United States and abroad. With only 10 fellows per year, it was a highly selective program. Fellows gained experience through local programs, once established, as well as first-hand experience in Venezuela. They were also required to spend one year after graduation working with El Sistema initiatives. Many of the current programs operating in Massachusetts were created and run by former Fellows, including Bridge Boston, Conservatory Lab, Josiah Quincy Orchestra Program, and Revolution of Hope.

 

The Longy School of Music at Bard College also has a long-standing relationship with Massachusetts’ El Sistema programs. Most directly, they run an event called Sistema Side by Side. Begun in 2014, it is a series of concerts that bring together the different El Sistema programs in Massachusetts to play with members of the Longy Conservatory Orchestra under the guidance of varying conductors. They attend joint rehearsals and perform a concert together. The most high-profile conductor of the series to date was Gustavo Dudamel in March of 2014. The school also has a Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT) in Music degree that trains and certifies students to teach in El Sistema-inspired programs. Based in Los Angeles, CA, the program is part of a greater partnership  with the Los Angeles Philharmonic and its affiliated El Sistema-inspired programs. This initiative promotes the spread of music education’s social impact to under-serviced areas. In addition, all students of the conservatory, regardless of degree program, take a year of classes that provides them with the skills and experience to put together a community musical presentation that is both meaningful and educational. It culminates in a student-created project that is then brought to a location in the community. Many times this is one of the state’s El Sistema programs but it can also be hospitals, prisons, or community centers.

 

On the state level, the Massachusetts Cultural Council has created a program through their Creative Youth Initiative to benefit the growing number of El Sistema programs in the state. Called SerHacer (To be, To make), it is designed to help the organizations through what the MCC describes as “technical assistance, grants, and convenings.” It was put in place to help facilitate access to these programs for the growing number of children and families currently living in poverty. With the help of this initiative, Johnson String Instrument intends to expand its contribution to the Massachusetts El Sistema community.

 

For more information on Massachusetts El Sistema-inspired programs:

 

Copyright © 2015 · All Rights Reserved · Silvija Kristapsons

What is El Sistema?

The idea of El Sistema has been entering conversations about American music education. The title is tossed around and linked with success stories of famous musicians such as Gustavo Dudamel. A simple internet search provides inspirational videos and images of joy and triumph. There exists, however, some confusion over what exactly El Sistema is. The simplest answer: It is an idea. With roots in the impoverished barrios in Venezuela, it is an idea that has spread from South America to the United States and abroad as a way to offer children a way out of the cycle of poverty they have been presented with through the values and skills learned through music. Though the structure of the American El Sistema-inspired programs varies, they all are based on the belief that every child is entitled to the opportunity to learn an instrument despite their financial or social standing.

 

So what is El Sistema?

 

Dr. José Antonio Abreu founded what we now know as El Sistema in Venezuela in 1975, building it from a group of eleven children to a national state-funded program with locations throughout the country. His goal was to provide children with a safe place to be after school and give them the skills and opportunities to find an alternative to the pervasive cycle of poverty. Since the program is free of charge, any child is able to attend El Sistema regardless of economic status. Each site, or nucleo, has orchestral and choral programs as well as folk, jazz, and special needs classes. The world-renowned Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra is one of the top orchestras to come out of this system, as well as the music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Gustavo Dudamel.

 

In 2009, Dr Abreu was awarded the TED Prize. With this comes the opportunity to share a wish with the world. His was for the United States to set up a series of El Sistema inspired programs throughout the country for the benefit of impoverished youth. According to El Sistema USA, today there are over one hundred registered El Sistema-inspired programs throughout the nation. This wish has spread abroad to other countries on all seven continents excluding Antarctica.

 

The programs in the United States, while they carry the values and goals of Dr. Abreu’s original mission, have some significant differences in structure. El Sistema itself is not a curriculum, but Venezuela has a national one that can be adapted at the local level. The United States does not have a set national curriculum for music education, therefore it is decided by each individual program. El Sistema is also not a pedagogy. While it provides a programming structure and mission, the methods used in the United States vary depending on the program. Funding has been an issue as well; since the programs are not nationally sponsored, they need to find outside funding. This can be done through fundraising, school systems (depending on who is sponsoring the program), grants, or other avenues. Currently, only one program in the United States has been funded directly by a municipal government.

 

For more information:

http://www.elsistemausa.org/el-sistema-in-the-u-s.htm

http://www.ted.com/talks/jose_abreu_on_kids_transformed_by_music

 

Copyright © 2015 · All Rights Reserved · Silvija Kristapsons

Announcing the Launch of the Johnson String Project!

Johnson String Project LogoJohnson String Instrument is proud to announce our partnership with the new non-profit organization the Johnson String Project. You can find more information on the Facebook page and in the press release below. Keep following our blog to learn more about El Sistema and the Johnson String Project.

Johnson String Instrument Launches Lending Library

Johnson String Instrument, a leading online resource for stringed instruments, has created the Johnson String Project (JSP), a charitable foundation whose goal is to provide high-quality instruments to children who live in underserved communities and who are participating in El Sistema-inspired programs in Massachusetts. Supported by a grant from the Massachusetts Cultural Council (MCC), the Johnson String Project has created the first musical instrument lending library in the world. Students will be able to exchange and upgrade instruments as they grow and develop as musicians.
“The Johnson String Project recognizes that these programs are critical to the development of young minds,” said Anita Walker, MCC Executive Director. “It is the first organization in the world to build an instrument library to remove a significant barrier to musical education.”
The overall goal of the Johnson String Project is an expansion of Johnson String Instrument’s belief that all students are entitled to a high-quality instrument.
“Encouraging a love of music and enabling it with high-quality, well-maintained musical instruments is what the Johnson String Project is all about,” said Carol Johnson, founder of the Johnson String Project.
The Johnson String Project will officially be kicked off with a gala fundraising event on June 7th at their location in Newton, MA.
“In our conversations with program directors we learned that many of them have a hard time getting enough funding for the instruments as well as their upkeep. This grant and future donations will keep that from being an issue,” said Johnson.
Using musical education as a vehicle for social mobility was pioneered by El Sistema. Founded in Venezuela in 1975, the program uses music to teach values and skills that empower children to break the cycle of poverty. Many of the programs that benefit from this library are inspired by the original Venezuelan system.
Each $200 donation provides a student with an instrument for one year. Johnson String Instrument will be supporting the foundation with direct and indirect contributions.