El Sistema New Jersey Alliance holds summer camp at Princeton-Blairstown Center in Blairstown

The second annual El Sistema New Jersey Alliance summer camp will take place at the Princeton-Blairstown Center in Blairstown, August 17–19. One hundred students from across New Jersey will participate, representing the six Alliance programs: Trenton Music Makers (Trenton), NJSO CHAMPS (Newark), Paterson Music Project (Paterson), Union City Music Project (Union City), Sonic Explorations (Orange), and Sister Cities Girlchoir (Camden and Philadelphia). In addition to music rehearsals led by teaching artists from each program, students will participate in camp and teambuilding activities such as hiking, adventure courses and campfire s’mores and sing-alongs. On the final day of camp, the students will perform a concert for parents and friends.

The Alliance piloted the camp, made possible in part by a grant from the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, last summer. CHAMPS teaching artist Theresa Kemp said the shared experience left a lasting mark on the students: “It was really amazing to see the kids face challenges [from rope courses to learning new music quickly] and have to work through them as a team. [It’s] about finding a different part of yourself and connecting with other musicians. We’re trying to express to them that when you’re a musician, you’re a part of a community that is so much bigger than yourself, than your school, than New Jersey. It may sound cliché, but music really is the universal language.”

Young musicians from the Alliance programs have come together for multiple joint performances and events since the Alliance was founded in 2014; CHAMPS cellist Precious K. said her favorite part of last year’s camp was spending three days connecting with her peers: “Now that we’ve spent time with people from the other programs and gotten to know them, I know we have similarities so we can bond.”

El Sistema expert and author Tricia Tunstall said bringing students from different programs across the state together creates a new sense of identity. At last year’s camp, she said, “all the principles we talk about in El Sistema teaching just [came] alive spontaneously. It created this beautiful situation where kids [who didn’t previously know each other] are naturally drawn to help each other and play music together.”

This is the first year the Trenton Music Makers will participate in the camp, and the first year Sonic Explorations students will stay overnight. Orange Public Schools Supervisor of Visual and Performing Arts Donna Sinisgalli says, “We are excited that our students will have the opportunity to experience intensive musical instruction with students from the other programs in the Alliance and at the same time enjoy outdoor-nature activities.”

The programs of the Alliance are united around the idea of social change through music and inspired by the vision of Venezuela’s El Sistema, which brings intensive music education to children with little or no access to arts education. The Alliance’s mission is to provide collaborative instruction and performance opportunities for students, offer professional development training to teachers and empower participating families to come together in a statewide musical community. The Alliance has presented annual Fiddle-and-Fa-La-La-Fest showcase performances at NJPAC in Newark and free concerts in each program’s local community throughout the season.

THE PROGRAMS OF EL SISTEMA NEW JERSEY

Trenton Music Makers
Trenton Community Music School is operating an El Sistema-inspired Youth Orchestra in partnership with the Trenton Public Schools at Trenton’s Grant Elementary School and Dunn Middle School. The program is designed to provide high-quality music ensemble experiences and access to the benefits of group music making for the participating children. The after-school project provides 30 third and fourth graders with violin lessons, as well as musicianship classes, three days per week. This project is one of the Community Partnerships of the Trenton Community Music School. www.trentoncommunitymusic.org/trenton-music-makers.

NJSO CHAMPS (Character, Achievement & Music Project)
NJSO CHAMPS (Character, Achievement and Music Project) is an intensive education program inspired by the Venezuelan social change and music education program El Sistema. Implemented in partnership with University Heights Charter School in Newark, NJSO CHAMPS seeks to harness the power of music to enhance students’ lives. By training students as musicians, the NJSO seeks to develop character traits and skills that may impact students’ future success in school, work and life. As many as 50 students in grades 3–8 receive up to 30 weeks of after-school string instruction and performance opportunities. Students have performed with the NJSO and the NJSO Youth Orchestras, at concerts in community settings and at school assemblies. www.njsymphony.org/champs.

Paterson Music Project
Based in Paterson, New Jersey, Paterson Music Project (PMP) is an El Sistema-inspired program of Wharton Institute for the Performing Arts that uses music as a vehicle for social change by empowering and inspiring children through the community experience of ensemble learning and playing. PMP provides an intense musical immersion after school for nearly 200 students at the Community Charter School of Paterson and Paterson School 1. Students in grades three–five study a primary instrument (violin, cello or viola) and participate in six hours of group music instruction, ensemble practice and choir weekly. Students in grades one–two participate in Pre-Orchestra, a preparatory program that meets for two hours weekly. Pre-Orchestra students sing, participate in paper orchestra and play the recorder and buckets. Students perform frequently for the school and community. PMP began in January 2013 with 30 students at the Community Charter School of Paterson, where it now serves more than 100 students. In January 2015, PMP partnered with Paterson Public Schools to open a site at Public School 1. This new site serves 78 first through fifth graders from P.S. 1 and P.S. 26. www.patersonmusicproject.org.

Sister Cities Girlchoir
Sister Cities Girlchoir (SCG) empowers at-risk girls by building resilience, leadership, mastery and connection through a comprehensive choral training academy that invests in the unique potential of adolescent girls to break the cycle of intergenerational poverty and transform their communities. The program is research-based, and although a music program is an uncommon poverty intervention, SCG is modeled on the powerful impact that investments in the lives of at-risk girls make for a city block, a neighborhood, a city … for the world. SCG is modeled after El Sistema, Venezuela’s monumental music education program that is transforming lives and communities. SCG founder Alysia Lee spent a year studying El Sistema and visiting programs in Venezuela and throughout the U.S. through the Sistema Fellowship at the New England Conservatory. The pilot program launched in September 2012, with 75 middle-school-aged girls in three community sites. In its fourth year, more than 250 girls are registered at six sites in three target communities: Camden, West Philadelphia and Kensington. www.sistercitiesgirlchoir.org.

Sonic Explorations: Sharing Sounds of Oakwood
Sonic Explorations: Sharing Sounds of Oakwood is an after-school music program at the Oakwood Avenue Community School in Orange, New Jersey. Since the fall of 2013, the program has provided violin, percussion and creative musicianship classes to students in kindergarten through third grade. Inspired by the Venezuelan El Sistema program, Sonic Explorations aims to provide free music education within a social context for the youth of the Oakwood Avenue Community School. Through building a network of shared resources, values, aspirations and advocacy, this program seeks to inspire youth, increase academic awareness and move the community-at-large towards a more promising future. The Oakwood Avenue Community School seeks to advance both individuals and the community through the transformational power of music. www.orange.k12.nj.us/Page/10448.

Union City Music Project
The Union City Music Project (UCMP) is an El Sistema after-school program that uses music as a vehicle for social change by providing intensive orchestral and vocal instruction and performance opportunities for urban children in Hudson County, New Jersey. Through a disciplined, cooperative and fun learning environment that integrates parental involvement, this structured grassroots program inspires academic excellence, enhances life skills and builds community. UCMP was launched in 2012 as the first El Sistema program in the Garden State. It currently serves 70 students ranging from 3–13 years of age by providing them with 24 hours of monthly instruction in violin, cello, percussion, flute, clarinet, trumpet, voice and music theory. www.ucmusicproject.org