El Sistema Academy
The El Sistema Academy is PROJECT MUSIC’s core program, providing after-school music instruction four days per week throughout the school year. The program operates in two locations, termed “nucleos” in the tradition of El Sistema. The Chester Addison Community Center nucleo was begun in 2014 in a partnership with Domus Kids, the Stamford-based nonprofit organization that operates the community center. This program site serves elementary aged students from various schools around the city, with priority enrollment given specifically to residents of the Southwood Square neighborhood and more broadly to the entire Waterside neighborhood. A second nucleo was opened in the West Side neighborhood at the Boys and Girls Club of Stamford’s Mary C. Rich Clubhouse, serving students in fourth grade and higher from the surrounding neighborhood and beyond. Both nucleos serve participant students with at least one hour of music rehearsal every Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday throughout the school year. A PROJECT MUSIC Site Coordinator at each nucleo oversees daily operations, maintaining communication with participant families as well as facilitating coordination with the academic tutoring and other services provided by the partner institutions. El Sistema Academy students are guided to a high standard of excellence in musicianship and personal conduct. They are required to participate in their respective school music programs, where they emerge as natural leaders whose achievement far exceeds that of their peers, and many El Sistema Academy students participate in additional extracurricular music opportunities such as the Greater Connecticut Youth Orchestras.
A typical day for an El Sistema Academy student begins with their arrival by school bus from any one of the public or charter schools in Stamford. They are greeted by a PROJECT MUSIC Site Coordinator, who may check in about any individual needs, or may simply give a friendly welcome to ensure the student knows that they are cared for and supported. The student receives an after-school snack, and spends time in a homework room overseen by the community partner institution. The student then takes part in an hour or more of band rehearsal, directed by a senior PROJECT MUSIC faculty member and covering a broad musical curriculum. On occasional days, the student may be taken aside by one of PROJECT MUSIC’s auxiliary Teaching Artists, who will provide crucial individual feedback as well as technical expertise in that student’s chosen instrument. Before or after rehearsal, the student may use free time to take advantage of other recreational activities offered by the partner institution. Finally, the student is picked up by family, who arrive by car or on foot to sign out their child and receive any news and updates from the Site Coordinator and/or teaching staff.
The Prelude Program was initiated in 2016 to deliver the benefits of PROJECT MUSIC to younger elementary school students in a developmentally appropriate way. The Prelude Program is much less intensive than the El Sistema Academy, and is more exploratory in nature, allowing children to develop interest and fundamental skills in music without having to commit to a rigorous progressive curriculum. Students are engaged once or twice per week, in classes up to thirty minutes long. “Bucket band” drumming classes develop rhythmic sense, ensemble cohesion, basic improvisation, and performance skills. Exploratory units utilizing special child-sized instruments introduce students to various wind instruments through hands-on experience, providing a basic understanding of the mechanics and sounds of each instrument, and allowing students to gravitate toward the instrument they may wish to pursue seriously at an older age.