Wednesday, December 21, 2011

WMUK 'Arts & More': Clarinetist Anthony McGill Participates in 'Kalamazoo Kids in Tune'

[AnthonyMcGill with students in Kalamazoo]

By: Cara Lieurance
Kalmazoo, MI 
December 19, 2011 
“Kalamazoo Kids in Tune, a partnership between the Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra, Communities in Schools of Kalamazoo, and Kalamazoo Public Schools, was launched this fall at Woods Lake elementary. It's based on the ideals of El Sistema, the Venezuelan after-school music program that has produced a generation of outstanding classical musicians, many from low-income families.

The much-reported El Sistema phenomenon began in 1975 when Jose Antonio Abreu, an economist and music lover, came up with a simple idea: introduce excluded children to a musical education, and turn their families and their communities into allies. He started an after-school orchestra with eleven kids 36 years ago. Today, around a quarter million children take part in El Sistema in Venezuela. The new conductor of the Los Angeles Philharmonic , 27 year old Gustavo Dudamel, is a product of El Sistema. The success of El Sistema has attracted music educators in the United States, including Michigan native Dan Trahey, who created a similar program in Baltimore, called OrchKids, after an inspiring visit to Venezuela.

After much research and planning in conjunction with Johns Hopkins University, Dan Trahey created a pilot program in 2005 based on El Sistema, called OrchKid. Impressed by its results, Baltimore Symphony Orchestra conductor Marin Alsop invested $100,000 of her MacArthur Genius Grant to expand OrchKids to west Baltimore's struggling schools. At first, Dan Trahey found the conditions of the neighborhoods intimidating.

Participating in group music-making builds life skills on many levels. It's a key to the success of El Sistema. After six years, the children participating in the Baltimore OrchKids program have measurably higher grades, improved attendance, and better attitudes about their future. The educators involved with the children also have learned to teach music differently from how they were trained, with an emphasis on musical expression, a safe environment, and the joy of playing as a group.

In Kalamazoo, 24 first and second grade students at Woods Lake Elementary joined Kalamazoo Kids in Tune. Monday through Thursday, they meet after school in the cafeteria for a full meal, and a chance to break from the school day to music time. Elizabeth Youker is the Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra's director of education, and its liaison to the program.”

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