At the end of the first week of the Sharing Notes project, Ron Alvarez and Félix Briceño look very happy. They each have reasons to be excited about the work that they have been doing with Sistema-inspired programmes in London.

‘It feels very similar to working in El Sistema in Venezuela,’ says Félix about The Nucleo Project, the independent programme led by Lucy Maguire. ‘I’ve been working with the most advanced and the intermediate kids, and I was very happy to see how much the children enjoy making music. Even in the breaks between rehearsals they stay in the classroom, sometimes practicing other pieces they want to learn.’

Félix is working with The Nucleo Project Children’s Symphony Orchestra and the intermediate Blue Orchestra. ‘We are focusing on musical elements like how they use the different parts of the bow, dynamics, articulations, and especially on teaching them to listen to each other as they perform,’ says Félix. The children are preparing for a concert on Sunday 17 May, in which they will perform Toreador, from the Georges Bizet opera Carmen, and Chamambo by Manuel Artés.

Outside their comfort zones

Ron has been working with the Holst (advanced) and Sullivan (intermediate) orchestras during the after-school sessions at In Harmony Lambeth. He has also been assisting during morning music lessons at Saint Stephen’s Church of England Primary School and Herbert Morrison Primary School. The children are learning A Little Night Music by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and the Prelude to Te Deum by Marc-Antoine Charpentier. They will stage a community performance on Friday 8 May.

‘Mostly this is about pulling the children outside of their comfort zone, showing them in very little time the potential they have, to convince them that they are better than they think,’ says Ron. ‘At the schools we are working on technical aspects like the different bowings. With the children in the after-school sessions we are exploring the energy of the orchestra. I was especially impressed by how fast the children of the Holst orchestra started to read the Mozart piece, which they had never played.’

Sharing Notes

Sharing Notes is a Sistema England project that aims to explore methods used by strong music teachers from around the world. In 2015 we invited two teachers from Venezuela’s El Sistema, Ron Alvarez and Félix Briceño, to work with the children and tutors of In Harmony Lambeth, In Harmony Liverpool, Sistema in Norwich and The Nucleo Project. You can follow their progress in this blog.