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L.A. Phil announces a joint musical education initiative

Teaming with Bard College and the Longy School of Music, the program aims to provide first-rate musical instruction in underserved communities.

October 05, 2011|By Reed Johnson, Los Angeles Times
  • Gustavo Dudamel, center, with members of the Expo Center Youth Orchestra in 2009.
Gustavo Dudamel, center, with members of the Expo Center Youth Orchestra… (Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles…)

In recent years, both with its money and its reputation, the Los Angeles Philharmonic has endorsed the principles of Venezuela's El Sistema national music training program. The Phil set up a Los Angeles youth orchestra partially modeled on El Sistema, and hired the program's star graduate, Gustavo Dudamel, to be the orchestra's music director.

Now the L.A. Phil is following El Sistema's lead again.

On Tuesday, the orchestra announced that it is partnering with Bard College in upstate New York and the Longy School of Music in Cambridge, Mass., to launch a joint musical education initiative that will aim to combine first-rate musical instruction with the broader goal of serving underserved community.

"Take a Stand," as the initiative is being called, will provide a platform of regular conferences and workshops for pioneering classical music educators across the United States, and will develop a pool of artistically accomplished, socially conscious music teachers through a new Masters of Arts in Teaching degree program that will be developed by the Longy conservatory.

In an interview Monday, Deborah Borda, the L.A. Phil's president and chief executive, said that the new initiative was inspired by a number of the key principles behind El Sistema (The System), which has provided music lessons to about 400,000 youths — particularly those from Venezuela's teeming urban barrios — and spawned imitators around the globe.

"This is a program that will teach teachers about the very specific musical and social components of El Sistema," Borda said. Dr. José Antonio Abreu, founder of the National System of Youth and Children's Orchestras of Venezuela, as El Sistema is formally known, will serve as the initiative's honorary advisor.

The initiative's inaugural conference will be held Jan. 30 to Feb. 1 in Los Angeles, coinciding with the L.A. Phil's Mahler Project, at which Dudamel, the Phil and the Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela will be collaborating in concert performances and working together with students in the Phil's Youth Orchestra Los Angeles (YOLA).

The new one-year master's teaching program will enroll its first class in June, said Karen Zorn, president of Longy, with the goal of helping highly skilled musicians become teachers who can be active participants in the needy communities where many of them will serve. One key pedagogical component, derived from El Sistema, will be using older students to help mentor and teach younger ones.

Leon Botstein, Bard College president, said that the program will seek highly accomplished musicians who have thoroughly mastered their subject area and "really want to teach." "Let's have students meet real artists," he said.

The initial group of teachers will be based at two primary locations, Zorn said: the Heart of Los Angeles Community Center in MacArthur Park, one of YOLA's two established nucleos where students receive instruction; and the Paramount Bard Academy in Delano, in California's Central Valley, a charter school connected to Bard's existing MAT program in other academic disciplines. Future Master's enrollees may work at El Sistema-inspired learning labs and schools throughout the country.

Tuition for the new master's degree program will be $37,500, and there will be merit and financial-need scholarships available. The annual cost of the program is roughly $1 million, which will be funded by the L.A. Phil and Longy, Zorn said.

Borda and Zorn said the idea of forming the partnership took shape earlier this year, partly in reaction to a reshuffling of the relationship between the New England Conservatory of Music and El Sistema USA, another, Boston-based training program inspired by El Sistema of Venezuela. The Phil, Longy and Bard decided that it was time for other U.S. musical and educational entities to step forward, Zorn said.

"What we want to do is recruit very high-level performers, conductors and composers who have this inkling, something inside them that says they want to give back," Zorn said. "I think gone are the days when you can be an elite musician and not be engaged in the community around you."

reed.johnson@latimes.com

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