The word “inspiring” is overused, but it’s the only one I can think of that captures what I saw at the East Somerville Community School last night. I was fortunate to attend the Somerville debut of El Sistema, a daily after-school program that enriches the lives of at-risk kids through music education. The young musicians meet for three hours each school day to learn the basics of musical performance and theory, and they do so thanks to the generosity of neighbors and community groups who have donated instruments.
Funding for arts education has suffered around the country over the last decade, which makes partnerships with groups such as El Sistema all the more vital. And for anyone who’s ever suffered through traditional music lessons, I need to stress just how different El Sistema’s approach is. “El Sistema is a completely different way of learning an instrument,” district music director Rick Saunders told the Somerville Journal, “because children play together in an orchestra every day for at least two hours, compared to the typical 40-minute instrument lesson per week. With so much time to play, the children progress rapidly.”
The benefits of music education are incredible, and the younger students start, the more music helps. Kids learn discipline by practicing every day, they understand how to work together as a team by performing together, and perhaps most importantly, they develop stronger spacial and reasoning skills without even knowing it. El Sistema also makes sure that its students eat a nutritious after-school snack.
El Sistema is exactly the kind of educational partner we need in our schools. I want to say thank you to El Sistema, to the East Somerville Community School, and to the talented young musicians who performed last night. It was an absolute pleasure, and I’m excited to see the program’s Somerville debut get off to such an amazing start.