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 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!