What is El Sistema?
In 1975, Venezuelan musician and economist Dr. Jose Antonio Abreu began a musical and social movement known as El Sistema. This revolutionary music education program has grown into a national system of youth orchestras and choirs, known worldwide for its mission of social change and youth development through music education. Since its inception, more than two million children have participated in El Sistema Venezuela. In addition to numerous youth orchestras and choirs, children who grew up in El Sistema have formed professional orchestras throughout Venezuela, including the Simon Bolivar Orchestra and the Theresa Carreño Orchestra.
Access, inclusion, intensity and peer mentoring are hallmarks of El Sistema philosophy. Instruments and instruction are all provided free of charge, and students rehearse for multiple hours a day, often every day of the week. Nearly every town in Venezuela is home to a centrally located music center, known as a nucleo. These basic principles allow students of all socioeconomic statuses to participate, breaking down traditional access barriers to high quality music education. Students are exclusively instructed in a group setting as opposed to receiving private instruction, based on the belief that group instruction teaches children important cooperation and socialization skills. Because of these characteristics, El Sistema Venezuela has become an inspirational model for music educators and performers worldwide.
The Horn Problem
There are currently over 100 El Sistema inspired programs in the United States, most of which have launched within the last five years. Many of these programs begin exclusively as a string orchestra, expanding to woodwinds and brass as funding and resources allow. When undergoing the task of initiating brass programs, El Sistema organizations typically fall into one of two camps: they hire one Teaching Artist to instruct all of the brass students in a brass ensemble setting, or they hire one Teaching Artist per instrument (one horn teacher, one trumpet teacher, etc.). Students rarely receive private instruction in either scenario. Unless the instructor happens to be a horn player, the horn is often excluded when brass programs are formed with only one teacher, due to the Teaching Artist's lack of comfort in starting young horn players. This creates an ensemble of trumpets, trombones and euphoniums, lacking a middle voice. When a horn Teaching Artist is employed specifically to instruct the horns, often that individual has limited experience in a classroom-style teaching setting. This frequently leaves the teacher feeling frustrated and unable to provide the highest quality education to the students at no fault of his or her own.
Tocar el Corno: A Manual for Introduction and Instruction of Beginning Horn Players in El Sistema Inspired Programs
After four years of research and work in the field, Rachel completed Tocar el Corno (To Play the Horn), an instructional resource for El Sistema inspired programs featuring a brass contingent with young horn players. It serves as a guide to instructional techniques useful when starting young students on the horn in a group setting, addressing and providing solutions to common problems faced under this circumstance. Addressed are issues of basic horn technique, aural skills development, group education and classroom management strategies, and resources for better educating underserved youth.
Rachel is in the process of publishing this manual. Please check back regularly for updates on the publication process and excerpts from the manual!