Since 2014, PROJECT MUSIC has partnered with Domus to bring high-quality after school programming to Stamford’s Waterside neighborhood. El Sistema Academy students participate in a variety of music classes 4 days per week, for 90 minutes each day. Each student moves between different classes tailored to their needs, to develop a broad skill set, including: chorus, “bucket band” percussion ensemble, concert band rehearsal, dance, and group lessons on their primary instrument. Almost immediately, they take part in frequent performances around the community, developing an identity as a musician and a natural ease interacting with the public. The students are divided into two levels, based on achievement in both musical and social skills.
To sign children up for the El Sistema Academy, parents must first contact Domus to enroll their children in the general after-school program at the Chester Addison Community Center. Once a child has gained admission to the center, there is free and open enrollment of the El Sistema Academy available to all students.
Students in the Etude level are beginners in terms of instrumental technique and rehearsal behaviors. These students learn in small classes with a lot of individual attention. Etude students choose a primary instrument, and spend much of their time developing strong fundamental techniques. In their “Bucket Band” percussion ensemble, they begin rehearsing and performing as an ensemble early in the year, and develop further musicianship through singing and dancing multiple times per week. Skills of teamwork, critical listening, and reading musical notation are emphasized so that our can mature into independent learners quickly.
As students master the basics of their instrument, promotion to the Minuet level provides the opportunity to test the waters of the concert band rehearsal. These students still spend two days per week mastering the fundamentals with their Etude peers, but spend the other two class days working on more advanced materials alongside the more experienced Rhapsody students. The goal of every Minuet student is to get comfortable enough playing in the band to gain promotion to Rhapsody level by the end of the year.
With sufficient advancement in technique and maturity, students are promoted to the Rhapsody level, with more advanced music and higher expectations. More time is spent in large ensemble rehearsal, where a high degree of independence is a necessity. Small group sectionals continue to develop instrumental technique and musicality. While less time is spent in singing and percussion classes at this level, the complexity of the musical arrangements increases significantly. Performances for the Rhapsody students are more frequent and varied than those of the younger groups.
As the most advanced students of the El Sistema Academy, students at Studio level often become the public face of the program. The Studio Ensemble makes frequent performances outside of the community center, and plays in a wide variety of styles. Work at this level includes many more advanced musical skills, with focuses on improvisation, intonation, arranging, ensemble unity, and more. Many students at the Studio level seek out additional musical opportunities as well, which have included admission into the Stamford High School Band and the Greater Bridgeport Youth Orchestras.