Fall Quarterly Newsletter

Dear Friends of Conservatory Lab,

El Sistema has arrived, bringing with it an affluence of spirit.  Walk through the halls of Conservatory Lab and you will hear full orchestras playing Beethoven and Tallis, see fifth graders giving private viola lessons to younger students, and feel the joy that emanates from every chorus, percussion, string, and wind ensemble. Conservatory Lab Charter School is the first elementary school in the country to  totally incorporate the El Sistema model into the daily school schedule.  The school day has been elongated by one hour and forty-five minutes so that every child in the school receives 15 hours of music instruction a week.

The 16 resident artists teaching daily at Conservatory Lab are giving life and soul to the remarkable philosophy of Jose Antonio Abreu.  Under the guidance and direction of two Abreu Fellows, graduates of the inaugural Abreu Fellows Program at new England Conservatory, they have already been successful in developing habits of mind, body, and spirit in our students as they pursue making beautiful music.

Our unique Learning Through Music Curriculum continues to engage and inspire students to make deeper connections as they study herpetology and hydro-geoglogy, or examine the power of the arts to make social change.  Through expeditionary learning, students are meeting experts in every discipline they study, then venturing out to learn from and participate in the Boston community.

There are many ways to become involved at Conservatory Lab.  We thrive on the assistance we receive from volunteers who come in to share their talents and give individual attention to students in music, reading, and math.  Our doors are always open to  visitors and volunteers alike.

As always, your financial support sustains and inspires us.  Please consider making Conservatory Lab a regular part of your personal giving plans.  Contributions can be made on-line or by mail to the address in the sidebar of this article.  Thank you for your support.

Warmly,
Diana Lam
Head of School

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El Sistema is Here!

On September 7, 2010, the Conservatory Lab Charter School opened its academic year with a brand new program: El Sistema, the internationally renowned Venezuelan model for music education as a vehicle for social change. For the past two months, Conservatory Lab students have been immersed in music three hours a day, staying at school until 5:30 p.m. in order to sing, drum and play in orchestra.

Just as El Sistema started with eleven people playing music in a parking garage in 1975, El Sistema at Conservatory Lab started with a short trip to Venezuela in 2008, during which Head of School Diana Lam and Board Member Kitty Pell became enamored of El Sistema’s ensemble-based, child-first teaching philosophy. Since then, Conservatory Lab Board Member Mark Churchill has become the Director of New England Conservatory’s Abreu Fellows Program, a training program named for El Sistema’s founder, that prepares young musicians to become leaders in the growing El Sistema USA movement. The first class of ten Abreu Fellows graduated in June 2010, having spent two months of their year-long program in Venezuela, observing, teaching and learning within the El Sistema núcleos, or music centers. Two of these fellows, Rebecca Levi and David Malek, are now the co-directors of the El Sistema program at Conservatory Lab.

In El Sistema, there is the belief that every child should be treated as a musician, fully capable of participating in ensembles. From the first day, 1st through 5th  grade Conservatory Lab students have worked hands on with instruments ranging from West African drums to double basses. Each child chose an orchestral instrument-either the violin, the viola, the cello, the double bass, the flute, the clarinet or the trumpet-and has been working daily on being a member of the orchestra, which Dr. Abreu calls a “model society.” In classes that mix grades and skill levels, there is ample opportunity for students to build new relationships with each other and even become teachers themselves. Every Friday afternoon, 3rd through 5th grade students give private lessons to 1st and 2nd graders, attending to one another’s technique and providing motivation for their younger counterparts. Pre-Kindergarten and Kindergarten students spend their afternoons building basic musical skills through song, percussion and movement.

With music classes taking place in every corner of the school, El Sistema at Conservatory Lab enjoys the support of the classroom teachers, who act as mentors to the musicians and help create continuity for the students. In this way, the Conservatory Lab Charter School continues to show the way in which music creates a communities of joyful,  considerate learners.

To give a gift in support of the El Sistema orchestral program at Conservatory Lab, click here.
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Fifth Graders Stand Up and Speak Out!


In the hands of a skilled artist, music can tear down injustice and build solidarity among the oppressed.  The fifth grade class demonstrated this with a stirring performance at a school-wide assembly of an original protest song.  Their Learning Through Music unit, “Stand Up and Speak Out,” is part of the unique curriculum at Conservatory Lab that uses the joy and discipline of musical experience to enrich all aspects of student learning.

This unit explores the American Revolution through the tools and strategies  colonists used to voice their anger at British rule and unjust laws.  Students learned the song “The Rich Lady Over the Sea,” that frames the Patriot’s anger at the tea tax in a dialogue between an overbearing mother and a rebellious  daughter, separated by “an ocean of water between.”  They then made connections to the traditional American folksong, “Mama Don’t Allow,” and re-wrote the words to give voice to the Patriot’s protests against British rule.  They performed their song, “The British Don’t Allow” for a school-wide assembly.

To set the scene for this song, fifth graders had to become a part of the history they were studying.  During a case study of the Boston Tea Party, students traveled downtown to the Old South Meeting  House to role-play the debate that took place  between the Loyalists and the Patriots in its original venue.  The next week, they continued their fieldwork with a visit to the Freedom Trail, where each student  chose to become an expert on one of the fourteen stops.  Now they are creating a Freedom Trail slide show which their freedom trail tour guide will feature on his popular blog, Teach History.

To culminate this unit, the fifth grade class will take a stand on an issue that matters to them by creating a class project that addresses a need in their school community.  They will identify a need and use all their talents to make a difference in the lives of those around them.

To make a contribution in support of the unique Learning Through Music curriculum at Conservatory Lab, click here.
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Tavis Smiley Comes to Conservatory Lab

The  popular PBS host will feature Conservatory Lab in his upcoming special on music education in the United States.  The program will air on  Wednesday, December 29 at 8pm /7pm central on PBS.
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An Interview with Jorge Soto


How did your experience in El Sistema change your life?

Originally, I wanted to play soccer; I was a very good soccer player.  But violin was free, so when I was nine years old, my father said, “you are going to play violin.”

El Sistema saved my life because I was around good kids, like Gustavo [Dudamel], and the others at the Conservatorio.  When you are sixteen, seventeen, you want to do what your friends do, but being surrounded by good role models, you just want to join them. And we were rehearsing for hours after school, so we didn’t have time to get into trouble.

I grew up in the roughest neighborhood of the city of Baraqisimento. Of all of the other children in the neighborhood that I used to play with, most of those friends are dead now.  My future could have been very different.

What do you want to share with others as a teacher in El Sistema?
Basically I want to just play music and have fun.  If the kids are having fun and learning to play, then I would hope that years from now, they will come back and say to me, “I had fun; I learned something.”  Many of them probably will not do music for a career, but I think it really makes a difference in their lives.

Why is El Sistema important in the United States?
When you go to a concert in the United States, you mostly see older people, people with money. In Venezuela, when there is a concert, everyone comes, because we are excited to see it.

Music shouldn’t be so elite.  It is especially important for poor kids, because of what it can do for them.  Being in music makes opportunities to get into a better school, and it gives them tools to concentrate better and learn more.

To make a difference in a child’s life through quality arts-based education at Conservatory Lab, click here.
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First Orchestra Performance: A resounding success!


Music filled the halls of Robert and Muffy Glauber’s exquisite Brookline home on the evening of October 21st.  After just seven weeks with their new instruments, students performed an orchestral arrangement of Ode to Joy, a wind ensemble version of When the Saints Go Marchin’ In, and a choral rendition of the Jamaican folk song Day-O.  Resident artists also performed a selection from Mozart’s Flute Quartet in D Major.  All attendees spoke with amazement about the performances.

To support the Conservatory Lab orchestras, click here.