The YAMA team recently had the opportunity to travel to Cincinnati and Chicago to take a look at two El Sistema inspired programs that have been around for a little longer than YAMA has been.
Our first stop was in Chicago with the People's Music School Youth Orchestras, which is a branch of the People's Music School. The People's Music School, founded by Dr. Rita Simo in 1975 with $625 and a donated piano, has been providing Chicago youth with free music lessons for over 30 years.
They just finished their sixth year and operates in a school of over 1800 children. There are over 100 students participating in the program, which makes them much larger than the YAMA orchestra at the moment.
We walked into the largest elementary school I have ever been, into a scene of students quietly (in most cases) retrieving their instruments and heading off to various sections of the school to participate in sectionals and group rehearsals. It was great to see such a large number of students being self directed and getting to where they needed to be without a lot of hand holding. We were able to to watch a few instrument groups work together including the brass section, which was working on an ensemble piece. It was obvious in all of our time there that the expectations for the students were high and the students were striving to meet those expectations.
We found that The People's Music School Youth Orchestras face many of the same issues we face in Yakima. An issue that we have become quite creative about is space...there is never enough! As YAMA grows and we add in more instrument families, this issue will only increase. In Chicago they are dealing with the (soon to be) loss of their wonderful storage closet/operations headquarters as it will be turned into a gym.
We also got to see some advantages they have due to living in a much larger city. Access to highly trained volunteers. With a number of universities and university students living in the city, they may never run out of musician volunteers. With Central Washington University 40min away, we have found it hard to attract CWU music students to come and get involved in our movement.
The music produced by PMSYO was incredible and that level of musicianship is something we will strive for as our young orchestra grows up. It was a very inspiring and engaging program. The audience and younger orchestra, which joined us after their performance, were so energized that there were applause after every movement and a standing ovation at the end!
During our tour and in our attendance of their final rehearsals and end of the year concert, we saw something we see in Yakima at all of the YAMA events. Students who are engaged and hungry for great music, a community that comes out to show their support, and proud parents and families ready to cheer their students on.
After Chicago we all piled in to our rental car and made the five-hour drive to Cincinnati to meet up with the Music for Youth in Cincinnati (MyCincinnati) to help out with their end of the year rehearsals and concert which would be a collaboration with the Cincinnati Opera held at the Cincinnati Zoo.
MyCincinnati operates out of their own building, independent of a school...which kind of blew my mind. Having their own space allows them to make the space their own, post things on the walls, and really set the tone for what is expected and what can be accomplished there. A YAMA music building would be the best.
On day one with MC we observed a bucket drumming/musicianship class where students worked on rhythms and sang intervals. We saw the youngest group engaged and attempting to gain stars for various pieces of music by playing and counting out loud or playing and singing their parts. There were sticker boards everywhere charting everything from rhythms to scales and arpeggios.
The YAMA team had much more hands on roles with this group so we got to know some of the students a little better here. Josh and I took the bus with the older group and helped with student management as the musicians prepared to play with members of the Opera company.
The concert was great and the kids were focused and well prepared for the standing room only crowd. Teachers, parents, and musicians should all be proud of how well they performed.
It was a great opportunity to visit other programs and reflect on what we do at YAMA. We brought back a bunch of new ideas from both sites and can't wait to get the kids excited about them. We also came back, more sure than ever, that we have something special going on in Yakima.