An Affluence of Spirit
José Antonio Abreu, founder of El Sistema, has used the above phrase to describe the result of experiencing great ensemble music. After our first day at Conservatory Lab, however, we were sure the community had enough spirit to last itself a lifetime. The halls were overflowing with it—the energy, enthusiasm and visceral reactions of 157 elementary-age kids.
Though Dr. Abreu, founder of Venezuela’s vast network of youth orchestras, was referring to the elevated condition of the soul as opposed to the sheer abundance of youthful spirit, he would surely recognize the raw material at Conservatory Lab.
If he could be here, Dr. Abreu would also see the incredible amount of growth that has taken place over the last six weeks. On day one, a mid-afternoon group violin class with mixed grade levels seemed a physical and emotional impossibility for many of the students. On day twenty-eight, scattered across the hallways and stairwells of the school, 3rd-5th grade violinists taught 45-minute private lessons to 1st and 2nd graders, and it was 4 p.m. on a Friday.
As Conservatory Lab’s music teachers, we hope to guide the students on the path to Music Literacy, to immerse them in the language of music so that they may speak, read and write it. We hope to build great musical ensembles in which students may explore and enjoy wide-ranging repertoire. We hope to give them countless opportunities to perform, to share their experiences with their families and communities.
We have every reason to be hopeful. Our wind musicians played “When the Saints Go Marching In” in three-part harmony while marching through the halls only two weeks after coming together as an ensemble. Every day, in our world percussion class, students learn complex beats and create polyphonic music on West African instruments. Every Friday, a different class performs at our assemblies, sharing the music they’ve created that week.
All this musical progress, however, becomes truly significant because of its social impact. When students learn to play in time and in tune with each other, they are learning to listen, to share and to communicate. When they perform for their peers or parade through the halls, they are opening their musical community to include others.
Conservatory Lab’s own Keys to Harmony beautifully express the link between musical and personal development:
We are sure that if we continue to live and play by these words, our spirits will grow richer than we could have ever imagined.