music is the universal language, music education should know no
boundaries. Thanks to a community effort, students at Hadfield
Elementary School in Waukesha are learning to play classical music
using "El Sistema," or "The System" — an
approach to teaching music that originated in South America.
El Sistema began
25 years ago in Venezuela, notes Lawrence Harper, professor of music
at Carroll University and administrator of the local program.
kids from barrios all over Venezuela and gave them access to
instruments and instruction," Harper says. "Now they have
4,000 kids involved. It’s an extraordinary success and is now being
exported to other countries."
businessman Ralph North saw an inspiring "60 Minutes" story
on El Sistema, and approached Harper about adapting it here. The
Hadfield Elementary program, which began this year, is the first of
its kind in Wisconsin.
programs becoming casualties of budget cuts, Harper says, elementary
school music education has become nearly extinct.
is really to have the private sector take this over and that’s what
we’ve done, and taken up where the schools have not been able
to," Harper says.
second-, third- and fourth-graders at Hadfield Elementary pay just $25
per year for professional instruction three days a week, playing
instruments provided by the White House of Music. Substantial support
comes from Carroll University, with partial funding from the Edith
Olsen Music Foundation.
the Wisconsin Philharmonic volunteer their time in the classroom to
assist El Sistema’s three instructors, and students and their
families receive tickets to the orchestra’s concerts. The
Philharmonic’s String Quartet has also performed at the school as
part of the program.
learning music is similar to learning a language, and the earlier the
students are exposed to music education, the better.
pick it up very quickly and learn skills in discipline, attention,
focus and imagination that just applies to everything else that they’re
doing," he says.
remains to find funding for the El Sistema program and expand it to
"One of the
things that’s been very rewarding about it is that people are really
interested in it and think it’s, universally, a fantastic
idea," Harper says.
have plunged in with enthusiasm, he adds, "and they’re having a