Not hopped on the bus yet? You better get going …

First a trick question: what links the following forty three countries? Brazil, South Africa, Canada, Mexico, Denmark, Armenia, United Kingdom, Germany, Australia, Spain, France, Austria, Sweden, Italy, Argentina, Switzerland, Netherlands, Japan, India, Croatia, Guatemala, Serbia, Qatar, United States, Venezuela, Ireland, Belgium, Bolivia, Norway, Poland, Viet Nam, Finland, New Zealand, Colombia, Singapore, Iceland, Portugal, Israel, Hungary, Peru, Taiwan, Thailand, Republic of Korea. (It’s not that they all have Sistemas by the way, though many of them do).

I ask this question because last week news was announced of the next wave of future Sistema directors and leaders to be trained through The New England Conservatory’s (NEC) Sistema Fellows programme, what was formerly known as the “Abreu Fellows” programme. This announcement followed a new agreement that was signed between NEC and El Sistema in Caracas in March earlier this year. And very interesting reading the new list of students made.

The new class brings together eight women and two men of reasonably diverse musical educational routes, ranging in age from 22–32. They include instrumentalists (actually a number of multi instrumentalists), a conductor, a world music advocate and one person with a lot of interest in dance. But a brute list of their various specialisms was not what caught my eye. No, what I noticed was the fact that they hail from four different countries in three different continents, and that between them they have already been working in social change programmes in Ecuador, Chile, South Africa, Guatemala, Tanzania, Brazil, and the U.S.

This amounts to a clear case of ‘All change please’. Once upon a time in the long distant Sistema past of four years ago, the NEC Fellows were essentially from, and experienced in, the US alone. Sure, some exceptions, but ‘essentially’. But that all looks set to change. NEC’s Sistema Fellows programme (by the way, forgive me my English English spell check here …), from what I can see is becoming increasingly international. And if it looks like that, well the NEC is simply behaving like a mirror.

And what it is mirroring is the fact that the El Sistema movement has reached a real tipping point internationally. Call it  phase three. First, as we know, it was developed in Venezuela. Then – actually from quite soon after it was established – its performances were exported, and latterly, over the last decade or so, exported to extraordinarily devastating effect. Think of this as the Trojan Horse phase: about 200 musicians out of a force of hundreds of thousands conquered hearts and minds wherever they went, leaving a parched thirst for El Sistema in their staggering wake. ‘Venezuela has one’ everyone chirped, ‘we must have one’.

That is where we are now. And the internationalising of the new Sistema Fellows list is simply an indication of where we are headed. I have no doubt that the next decade will see the emergence of a joined up international Sistema circuit that will make it the preeminent social change through music project in the world. Anyone out there from a country that has not yet hopped on the bus, well you better get going, for this is a project whose time, globally, has more than just arrived.

And my 43 country trick question? Well that’s you dear readers. (And also more evidence for the essentially international nature of the new El Sistema). Since I set up this blog in late February I have so far had readers from that exact listing of countries*. Sounds impressive? Well let me tell you: I don’t fool myself. Me on my own, that would certainly not bring such an exotically impressive roll call of territories in so little time. It’s the Sistema stupid. Meanwhile, some biographical detail on the new crop of Sistema Fellows below. Look carefully, they may soon be running a Sistema near you, wherever you are.

*September 2012 Note: that number is currently more than 70


Sistema Fellows 2012:

Cellist Andrea Shigeko Landin was born and raised in Los Angeles, California, where she took lessons at the Colburn School of Performing Arts. She went on to earn a B.M. in Cello Performance from the Oberlin Conservatory of Music and a B.A. in Anthropology from Oberlin College. Bridging these two degrees, Andrea spent the year of 2011 as an artistic facilitator in Totonicapán, located in the highlands of Guatemala, with non-profit organizations Artcorps and Ecologic Development Fund/48 Cantones. There, she worked with indigenous youth to design and implement projects that promoted environmental conservation and the continuation of ancestral practices, using music and art as tools for social change. Prior to her work in Totonicapán, she spent four months doing field-based research at the Centro de Investigaciones de Mesoamerica in Antigua, Guatemala, and served as an intern at the Guatemala Human Rights Commission in Washington D.C.

Born high in the Andes of Ecuador, trumpeter Carlos Roldán is a music educator and ardent advocate for social change. He currently runs the Music Education Program of the California Non-Profit Organization SAHLUD (Student Advocates for Healthy Living in Underserved Demographics). Carlos and his team of student volunteers travel throughout Ecuador teaching music classes to children in six impoverished, rural communities. SAHLUD’s influence also extends far beyond music education; its other philanthropic projects provide underserved communities of Ecuador with sustainable, free rolling medical clinics; public health education workshops; and provisions for healthier communal living. Participation is free for students and parents. He is working towards implementing many of El Sistema’s philosophies and practices in his growing music program in Ecuador.

Brazilian-born conductor Diogo Pereira has embraced two passions: music education and new music. He works for Música nas Escolas, an El Sistema-inspired project that has been transforming the lives of 22,000 children from Rio de Janeiro State in Brazil. Pereira recently received a Doctor of Musical Arts degree in conducting from Arizona State University. Pereira also holds a Masters Degree from The Conductors Institute at New York’s Bard College. He is an active entrepreneur. He is co-founder of Contemporaneous, a new music ensemble based in New York, and founder of Camerata Electra in Rio de Janeiro. He also served as music director at the Brazilian National Library, developing a concert series, O Som do Livro, with performances of scores from its collection. Currently, Diogo Pereira is supporting the development of social projects inspired by El Sistema in Arizona and Brazil.

Born and raised in San Jose, California, Elaine Chang Sandoval began studying the flute and piano from a young age. Elaine graduated from Soka University of America with a B.A. in liberal arts/humanities, and will soon complete a master’s in ethnomusicology at the University of Oxford. She first learned of El Sistema while an undergraduate, and has explored it in both her undergraduate and master’s theses. Her other academic interests include Soka education (The aim of Soka education is the happiness of oneself and others, as well as society as a whole, and peace for all humanity), global citizenship, multicultural education, music and identity, music transmission, applied ethnomusicology, and music and conflict transformation. Of Taiwanese and Mexican heritage herself, she has always maintained an interest in different music cultures, and is dedicated to progressing multicultural music education.

Vocalist and music educator, Elise Seymour, graduated with honors from Appalachian State University with degrees in Spanish and Music Education. She created a summer music program serving disadvantaged youth in Eastern North Carolina. Her music education continued as she completed her studies while teaching middle school chorus and piano at Martin Middle School in Raleigh, North Carolina. After graduation and a summer study in Madrid, Spain, Elise moved to Charlotte and began her work with the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra (CSO). This past year, she was the Education Assistant for the CSO’s Education Department. Her primary duties included her role as on-site coordinator and music theory instructor for an El Sistema-inspired program at Winterfield Elementary School. Winterfield’s Elementary program has increased by 200% to now educate 100 students a year. Children can study clarinet, trumpet, flute, violin, cello, music theory, chorus, and bucket band.

Jessie Berne was born in New Jersey. Her first instrument was piano accordion, which she came to love as a small child listening to her mother practice Eastern European folk melodies and Cajun tunes. She has a Bachelor’s at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio and a Master’s at Youngstown State University. Her love of roots music persisted, inspired by her father’s involvement as owner of a small bluegrass music hall and producer of American music events. While in college, Jessie picked up the mandolin, fiddle, guitar, and claw hammer banjo. She also plays alto and bass recorders. Instrumental music notwithstanding, her first love has always been dance. She has studied tap, ballet, modern dance, swing, Appalachian clogging, ballroom, square, contra, salsa, and other folk world dances. Currently working as an Americorps member in social work, she is eager to fuse this social mission with her passion for music.

Monique Van Willingh is a 2011 University of Cape Town honors graduate in Classical Flute, with a Performance Degree in jazz flute. Monique has performed in orchestras, big bands, chamber and jazz ensembles. Winner of the Fine Music Radio/Pick ‘n Pay Music Award for Jazz(2010), Monique was also awarded the ImpACT Award for Young Professionals in Jazz Music by the Arts and Culture Trust. A member of the Grahamstown National Youth Jazz Band, in 2009 Monique was selected as Principal Flutist of the MIAGI Youth Orchestra, and will be touring Europe with them in July. Two passions central to her life are music and youth development. Reaching Youth Through Music (RYTHM), which Monique established in 2009, promotes South African Music among disadvantaged Cape Town youth. She has been involved in many youth music projects such as Sisters in Sound Mentorship, Jazz Camp For Female Instrumentalists, and Youth Life Skills Development Camp Facilitation.

A Virginia native, Rachel Hockenberry received her Bachelor’s degree in horn performance from James Madison University and her Master’s from the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music (CCM). She is currently a doctoral candidate at CCM in horn performance with cognate studies in arts administration. Rachel is an active freelance musician throughout the tristate area, performing with a variety of orchestras. She is currently the horn teacher in the Milford Exempt School District in Milford, Ohio. At CCM, she has held Teaching Assistantships in the music theory department and the horn studio. She has completed administrative internships with Cincinnati chamber music ensemble Concert:Nova, and OrchKids, an El Sistema-inspired program in Baltimore, MD. Rachel’s OrchKids experience resulted in her overpowering love for the Sistema philosophy. She is currently a teacher and volunteer with MYCincinnati, a youth music program created by 2011 Fellow Laura Jekel.

Sara Zanussi has a B.A. in Music from Luther College, where she studied piano and voice. Her experience spans three continents with The Stillwater Choir directed by Dr. Erik Christiansen; Pontificat Católica University’s Coro Femenino de Cámara (in Valparaíso, Chile); Luther College’s Collegiate Chorale; Makumira University’s African Ensemble in Arusha, Tanzania; and Sweet Adelines’ City of Lakes Chorus. She has directed choirs in Tanzania and in Iowa, and taught and accompanied for ten years with her business, Z’s Keys (, that won entreprenuerial awards for her Skype lessons program. Sara studied in Valparaiso, Chile where she also researched her undergraduate thesis, “Music is Worth More Than 99 Cents: Mapuche Music and Cosmovisión”. She was an Umoja Music School fellow and assistant program coordinator in Arusha, Tanzania where she taught and facilitated music classes at Tanzanian schools. This fall, she co-founded the El Sistema-inspired Advocates for Community through Musical Excellence (ACME) in Minneapolis, MN, where she is the Development Director.

Xóchitl Ysabela Tafoya, a Santa Barbara, California native is an active member of the music education in her hometown. For the past four years, she has worked with the Santa Barbara Unified School District as a music teacher at nine public elementary schools within the city reaching 700 students weekly. Xóchitl is a teaching artist for the Incredible Children’s Art Network (ICAN), an El Sistema- based music program at Franklin Elementary. She has also participated as a strings coach for Bravo! SBUSD Music Program and Santa Barbara Youth Mariachi Ensemble. She has taught string orchestra at KIPP DC: AIM Academy. In addition, Xóchitl served as visiting lecturer at Trinity Washington University and University of Maryland, teaching ethnomusicology classes. Xóchitl holds a B.A. in Music from Scripps College. She received her M.A. in Ethnomusicology from the University of Maryland researching the music of Bali. She is currently working on her teaching credential in music from California State University Northridge.


2 thoughts on “Not hopped on the bus yet? You better get going …

  1. Pingback: Time to get out the measuring spoons | Marshall Marcus's Blog

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s