NPU Offers Unique El Sistema-Inspired Music Teaching Certificate

CHICAGO (September 30, 2013) — Students in North Park University’s School of Music are the first in the nation to have an undergraduate academic certificate option to prepare them to teach classical music using El Sistema-inspired methods.

Growing out of a social movement in Venezuela, El Sistema is a philosophy of providing free music education to school-aged children as one way of bringing communities together and inspiring young students to achieve great things.

“El Sistema isn’t really a technique, it’s a philosophy. You give young students these intensive experiences—usually every weekday after school—so that in the critical late-afternoon part of the day when they could be doing any number of things, they are occupied with becoming young musicians,” said Craig Johnson, dean of the School of Music.

“Programs are offered free, which is a part of the philosophy, but there are many different iterations that grow out of what is most appropriate for each individual setting,” Johnson said.

The School of Music’s involvement in the El Sistema movement has grown from the idea of one student into an ongoing collaboration with The People’s Music School, a Chicago organization that is the only free community music school in the country.

In 2008, North Park student Deborah Wanderley dos Santos helped found the youth orchestra program at nearby Hibbard Elementary School, which operates under the El Sistema philosophy. She and other students volunteered and formed a partnership with The People’s Music School that has persisted and grown.

The orchestra at Hibbard is now the Albany Park Nucleo of The People’s Music School Youth Orchestras: El Sistema Chicago. University students continue to serve as mentors and teachers for aspiring string players.

Tom Zelle, the university’s director of orchestral activities, has also become their artistic director.

“El Sistema inspires a dynamic of community and social change that is rare,” Zelle said. “We are moving away from what separates toward what unites, with an emphasis on a shared experience of the orchestra practicing and performing together.”

The certificate in music for social change will introduce North Park music majors to the El Sistema philosophy through teaching stringed instruments to elementary-aged students. Through theory and methods courses, as well as three semesters of internship, graduates of the program will gain the tools and experience to use El Sistema-inspired techniques throughout their career, developing young musicians who might not otherwise have the opportunity to learn classical music.

The partnership with The People’s Music School will help provide internship opportunities at the Hibbard School orchestra as well as at orchestras in Logan Square and Evanston. Any student majoring in music can pursue this eight-credit-hour certificate alongside their degree.

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