University Launches Certificate in Music for Social Change

Music for Social Change

The School of Music expands its undergraduate program offerings with a certificate and four degree concentrations

CHICAGO (September 27, 2013) — Students in North Park University’s School of Music are the first in the nation to have an undergraduate academic certificate option to prepare them to teach classical music using El Sistema-inspired methods, the new certificate in music for social change. Growing out of a social movement in Venezuela, El Sistema is a philosophy of providing free music education to school-aged children as one way of bringing communities together and inspiring young students to achieve great things.

“El Sistema isn’t really a technique, it’s a philosophy. You give young students these intensive experiences—usually every weekday after school—so that in the critical late-afternoon part of the day when they could be doing any number of things, they are occupied becoming young musicians,” said Dr. Craig Johnson, dean of the School of Music. “Programs are offered free, which is a part of the philosophy, but there are many different iterations that grow out of what is most appropriate for each individual setting.”

The School of Music’s involvement in the El Sistema movement has grown from the idea of one student into an ongoing collaboration with The People’s Music School, a Chicago organization dedicated to providing free music lessons to young people. In 2008, North Park student Deborah Wanderley dos Santos C’10 helped found the youth orchestra program at nearby Hibbard Elementary School, which operates under the El Sistema philosophy. dos Santos and other students volunteered and formed a partnership with The People’s Music School that has persisted and grown; the orchestra at Hibbard is now the Albany Park Nucleo of The People’s Music School Youth Orchestras: El Sistema Chicago, and University students continue to serve as mentors and teachers for aspiring string players. Dr. Tom Zelle, the University’s director of orchestral activities, has also become their artistic director.

The philosophy of El Sistema music programs fits closely with the mission and core values of North Park, offering University students a hands-on way to join their love of music with their desire for a life of significance and service. According to Zelle, it’s a musical experience for youth that is not dependent upon socioeconomic factors for access, in a time where private lessons and instruments are costly.

“El Sistema inspires a dynamic of community and social change that is rare,” Zelle said. “We are moving away from what separates toward what unites, with an emphasis on a shared experience of the orchestra practicing and performing together.”

The certificate in music for social change will introduce North Park music majors to this El Sistema philosophy through teaching stringed instruments to elementary-aged students. Through theory and methods courses, as well as three semesters of internship, graduates of the program will gain the tools and experience to use El Sistema-inspired techniques throughout their career, developing young musicians who might not otherwise have the opportunity to learn classical music. The partnership with The People’s Music School will help provide internship opportunities at the Hibbard School orchestra as well as at orchestras in Logan Square and Evanston. Any student majoring in music can pursue this 8-credit-hour certificate alongside their degree.

New concentrations in bachelor of arts degree

The School of Music is also now offering an enhanced bachelor of arts (BA) degree, providing concentration options for students to focus their studies. According to Johnson, 35 percent of music majors are in the BA program. Now, along with a broad general studies option, students can select concentrations in arts administration, composition, or instrumental jazz studies.

The composition track replaces a bachelor of music in composition degree that was focused heavily in classical music. The new program allows space for majors to experiment with a range of pieces, from writing and performing singer/songwriter material all the way to large orchestral or choral arrangements.

Along with music curriculum, students choosing arts administration will take focused courses in topics like nonprofit leadership, volunteer management, and complete an arts administration internship in a music-focused venue. This program draws on the strength of the University’s resources in nonprofit coursework and connections that have grown through the School of Business and Nonprofit Management.

The instrumental jazz studies concentration is a performance-focused track, but distinct from the classically oriented bachelor of music in performance. According to Johnson, this is an important way to respond to the varied interests of students.

“Right now, students can come and get a really top-notch performance degree, go audition for grad schools, and pursue that dream of being a classical musician or opera singer. But they can also come pursue this enriched BA with a much broader approach and free themselves up to experiment with many more options,” Johnson said.

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