The central theme of the year, my life, your brain, El Sistema, the Abreu Fellowship, the universe:

Dictionary definition (and etymologies!) threaten to pull me into abstractions and outer space…and so I will focus on the audiovisual over the proverbial–resist the impulse to wax poetic–and offer more of that which “speaks a thousand words” (and then some).

Okay, but not before I briefly share an etymologic “breakdown” of “ensemble” (ha ha), which is awesome:

from L.L. insimul “together, at the same time,” from in- intensive prefix (meaning in, into, toward, inside) + simul “at the same time,” related to similis (see similar)

Huh! Ensemble as in+simul…juicy. Love that. So these are two frames offered to you by our friends Merriam Wesbter and Now go forth and make your meaning.


I. The New England Conservatory’s first ever African American Roots Ensemble: a fabulous ensemble that I had the pleasure and privilege of being “considered in relation to its whole.” (Translation: I was in it. It was awesome.) You can read an article I wrote with Aisha Bowden (Abreu Fellow ’12) about the power of being in that group, featured in the New England Conservatory’s school paper, The Penguin. A video here from our end-of-semester performance:

A group of talented musicians–the majority of whom are instrumentalists by training–under the phenomenal, communalizing-and-fierceness-inducing leadership of Nedelka Prescod, a talented and visionary musician and a Masters student in NEC’s Contemporary Improvisation Department. Thirsty for more? (Me too.):

Rock it, fellow Fellows David France and Aisha Bowden, ROCK IT!

II. “Experience first, intellectualize later.” Bringing the ethos of ensemble to Harvard’s Kennedy School for an Arts and Leadership Symposium at their Center for Public Leadership was intended to do just that: bring people new to experience of musical ensembles right into that feeling and that sound, and allow intellectualization (new ideas and new questions) to grow equally from both.

It takes a strong ensemble to facilitate and sustain an impromptu ensemble of non-musicians. Props to the Abreu Fellows for really honing this ensemble-facilitation workshop/presentation; we’ve since done this presentation for several other groups and audiences, including NEC’s Board of Trustees.

III. Phenomenality^2 (at the very least). Play On, Philly! (POP) boasts musicians that are sight-reading like maniacs and ensembles that you would never guess have only been playing for 15 months. POP is led by Stanford Thompson, fearless Executive Director and Abreu Fellow ’10. I will let these young musicians will speak/play for themselves, and you will be stunned. The String Orchestra first:

And the Winds and Brass:

Could you play like this after 15 months? Didn’t think so.

IV. Connecting strangers, creating collaborators. Alysia Lee (Abreu Fellow ’12) organized the third annual Music in Charter Schools (MICS) Festival, bringing students from Philadelphia Charter Schools together to for intensive ensemble experiences. Charter School students are barred access to powerful ensemble experiences created for musicians in public schools, and Alysia’s work is a powerful addition to the realm of ensemble-cultivation for young people in Philly. Alysia Lee and Aisha Bowden conduct the MICS Concert Choir:

…while Avi Mehta (also a fellow Fellow) leads the Band in a part-choral-part-band rendition of the Black Eyed Peas’ “I’ve Got a Feelin’ “:

Extra points if you can spot Abreu Fellows Ben Fuller and Jennifer Kessler in the mix.

V. Transition point. Back to ensembles, definitionally:

[noun] all the parts of a thing taken together, so that each part is considered only in relation to the whole.

This is a fascinating notion to reflect on at this point in time, because there are many “wholes” of which I feel a part, from which I am currently transitioning into a brief hiatus (known as Winter Break). While I will physically spend some time separated from the whole of my Abreu Fellows cohort, the whole of NEC, the whole of 2011 (ah, yes, cue time of year when I start to get nostalgic and sentimental), there are other wholes that will follow me, and I them (e.g., the “whole” comprised of El Sistema lovers and advocates). And, separations–both literal and symbolic, temporary and permanent–are important in so many ways as well.

So, as a way to send wishes of joy and inspiration to the world in this symbolic transitioning point between one year and the next, here is an offering, by way of Bohemian-Austrian poet Rainer Maria Rilke:

Sonnets to Orpheus, Part II, XII

Want the change. Be inspired by the flame
where everything shines as it disappears.
The artist, when sketching, loves nothing so much
as the curve of the body as it turns away.
What locks itself in sameness has congealed.
Is it safer to be gray and numb?
What turns hard becomes rigid
and is easily shattered.
Pour yourself out like a fountain.
Flow into the knowledge that what you are seeking
finishes often at the start, and, with ending, begins.
Every happiness is the child of a separation
it did not think it could survive. And Daphne, becoming a laurel,
dares you to become the wind.