Almost forty years ago, Venezuela’s el Sistema started with twelve music students in a garage. Founder Maestro Jose Antonio Abreu believed that the qualities of a successful orchestra – a collaborative spirit, an intense dedication striving for excellence could also rise up and strengthen a community. Engaging children, regardless of their background, the learning, mastering and performing of music is all in service of something larger.
These principles are each employed to strengthen the student’s self-worth, determination, passion and emotional intelligence. And after proving to be an international success, the el Sistema model has since taken root across cultures and nations, inspiring the iCAN Music Program pilot in January 2011.
iCAN Music is now offered at no cost to families at two sites. The program at Franklin Elementary School, located in Santa Barbara’s Eastside, serves nearly 100 2nd – 6th Grade students. In partnership with the Santa Barbara Unified School District, the after school program operates three hours daily every weekday during the school year. Students receive intensive musical instruction, as well as time and tutorial support for homework completion.
In the fall of 2014, iCAN and the City of Santa Barbara Parks and Recreation Department announced a partnership that now also brings iCAN Music to the Westside of town. This is a new and exciting opportunity for iCAN to expand beyond its primary school-based partnerships and work with other sectors of the community in order to provide more children with access to high-quality arts programs. Located at the Westside Neighborhood Center, this second site now attracts students from six elementary schools for a daily after school program.
At the Franklin site, every iCAN music student begins by joining a choir and learning to play the violin, and then they are introduced to the cello and viola. Each student selects the instrument of their choice, which they practice and perform with until they reach 5th Grade when they are given the option to take up a wind or brass instrument. The orchestra grows and changes as more complex instruments are added. Eventually, the orchestra becomes the primary vehicle for music making for all students.
At the Westside Neighborhood Center site, this pilot stage program currently serves nearly 30 students in grades 3-6th. Students come to this common community setting from several elementary schools to receive intensive high-quality musical instruction. Students play string, woodwinds, and brass instruments and use choir as a method of instruction.
iCAN Music Teaching Artists at both sites are highly- skilled professionals with some being credentialed teachers. All invest deeply both in their teaching and personal performance as musicians. They are focused on encouraging the musical and social development of each student. Students are also given the opportunity to teach other students as a regular occurrence in the classroom, which cultivates a safe environment for learning. Parents are regularly engaged in discussions around their child’s learning and growth, so that the musical conversation continues outside of the program.
In the Community
The Music Program places a high value on performing the music that students make. Students spend between one-and- a-half to two hours a day making music, either in an ensemble or group instrumental lesson. In these lessons, students focus on learning musical fundamentals, which are extremely valuable in their own right, along with the important experience of shared success. Frequent community performances and concerts serve as a powerful motivating force for excellence and provide students with a platform to showcase their hard work and practice. Previous concerts have taken place throughout Santa Barbara for families and friends; at iCAN art openings, community events, for other youth programs, and at local hospitals, colleges, and private events.
A Seminario is a special, collaborative and musical experience where people come together and contribute to the success of a musically excellent day. Seminarios create a unique opportunity for parents, students, teaching artists and interested supporters to gather, learn together and create a shared experience where music, at its core, is valued as a magical accomplishment for all. Seminarios provide a rare opportunity for students to build relationships with other young musicians in nearby cities, while experiencing different teaching styles from teaching artists at partnering Sistema programs. Learning during these Seminarios is accelerated as students with varying abilities work together and create one enormous orchestra. Guests, parents and community members are always encouraged to join and participate. The iCAN Music Program has hosted and joined several Seminarios throughout Southern California with Sistema-inspired programs, including: