The El Sistema Expedition

I’m Hannah, a third-year student from Memphis, Tennessee. I’m currently pursuing a Dual-Degree in Music Education in the Bienen School of Music and Social Policy in the School of Education and Social Policy, with minors in Arts Administration and Religious Studies. I’m incredibly thankful to have been chosen to receive this year’s Circumnavigators Travel-Study Grant, and soon I will be traveling to eight different organizations in six different countries to study cultural approaches to music education pedagogy through a program called El Sistema. This past summer, I had the opportunity to conduct a case study on The People’s Music School, an El Sistema-inspired program here in Chicago. Since then, I have continued working with this organization as an administrative intern and am inspired each week by the impact that this program has had on the lives of thousands of children since its origination. While I never had the opportunity travel internationally before coming to Northwestern, I’ve had the chance to visit a handful of countries through different Northwestern programs over the last two years. I look forward to this new adventure and challenge of thirteen weeks circling the globe. This is my first blog (ever!), and I hope you enjoy this small glimpse into my research and travel experiences as I navigate six countries, thirteen different airports, and four different languages, all while meeting some incredible people along the way.

From a Norbucks booth mid-spring quarter:

It’s the end of April, but the windchill here in Evanston today still hasn’t managed to creep past a balmy 40 degrees. I’m in the midst of midterms, teaching practicums, the Waa-Mu show, and countless meetings that are all beginning to weigh me down. While burdened with the spring quarter struggle–that every Northwestern student knows all too well–the enthusiasm I have for my summer travel adventures only increases. It’s hard to believe that I’ll be abroad in just less than two months. It should go without saying that a trip of this duration takes some meticulous planning. I’ve applied for visas and received my shots. I’ve continued to work out housing plans and packing lists. I’ve finalized site visit dates and secured some interviews.

Since my last post, though, I reached quite a milestone in my newfound love of traveling: I flew internationally solo for the first time. This past spring break, I travelled to Jerusalem to visit an old friend and celebrate Easter. Over the course of my trip, we travelled throughout Israel to sightsee, visit her friends, and eat some tasty food. Though I was slightly anxious as I awaited my flight’s departure at O’Hare International, I ran into no trouble in Warsaw, Krakow, and Tel Aviv airports. By the time I arrived home after a long ten days, I was remarkably more comfortable and confident to take on whatever challenges may arise when I navigate thirteen new airports this summer.

Dipping my toes in the Mediterranean Sea

Sitting on the steps of the Church of Saint John the Baptist in Ein Karem

Since I’m terrible at wrapping up my thoughts, the rest of these blog post things will end with three things that I’m feeling especially thankful for:

1. The Circumnavigators Club of Chicago for making this entire trip possible

2. Northwestern University, a world-class university that gives me opportunities to travel and research issues that I’m passionate about

3. A loving family that’s not thrilled I’m traveling around the world alone, but fully supports my anyway

From a seat aboard Copa Airlines’ flight 229 to Panama City

A journey has begun—not the journey—but a journey nonetheless. It’s a Friday evening eight weeks deep into my third winter quarter here at Northwestern, but I’m not studying in Kresge, attending a student group meeting in Norris, or participating in my sorority’s big-little reveal. I’m sitting in seat 20A embarking on a trip to the summer music camp of FUNSINCOPA: Fundación Sinfonía Concertante de Panamá. For the next six days, I will live and work alongside music education specialists from numerous locations across the globe, teaching violin and viola to young students, and piloting the methodology for my summer research.

Exactly four months from tomorrow, I will begin the journey around the globe. I will soon be travelling to six countries—England, Greece, Kenya, India, the Philippines, and New Zealand—over a period of thirteen weeks. Flights have been purchased, so it’s officially official. I’m going. I’ve got numerous logistics to work to out between now and then, though, associated with housing and budget finalizations, visas, and countless other things. While it feels as though there’s a mountain of work (not to mention winter finals and all of spring quarter) standing between me and my journey, before I know it I’ll be abroad and researching what I love.

If you know me, you’ve most likely heard about El Sistema. If you don’t know me, here’s your chance to learn more: El Sistema originated in Venezuela in the 1970s with the goal of promoting social change through the medium of music education. Since its origination, hundreds of programs have been developed all across the world. Over the course of thirteen weeks this summer, I will examine multiple approaches to El Sistema at eight different organizations in order to learn more about best practices in music education, advocate for a more culturally understanding pedagogy, and ultimately promote social change through music.

Hopefully some of that sparked your interest, and I welcome you follow my blog and join me on this El Sistema Expedition!