From Eric Booth

To Friends in the El Sistema-inspired movement

Hello Friends,
If you were at the Take A Stand Symposium, or if you read the accounts of the symposium in the current issue of The Ensemble, you may have heard about a proposal I made to our field in L.A. I believe we have an engagement problem in our field—certainly not at the local level, and there seems to be some growing effectiveness at the regional level—but at the field-wide level, we are too slow. The prevailing mindset seems to be a belief that it is enough to do good work in our home programs, and not necessary to contribute to the larger movement that advances all our programs.

This explains why Joe Hamm could spend seven months contacting programs for a basic census to find out how many ES-i programs there are in the U.S. and other basic data—and even with the help of the Alliance and El Sistema USA, and after my sending out some 250 reminder emails, he still had some 20-30 programs that never responded. This is why when The Ensemble announced, four times, that we wanted to publish short writings from the field about promising practices, only one short piece was submitted.

We can do better than this. We have to do better than this if we are going to fulfill our potential for the students, if we are going to become visible and financially sustainable as a field. And yes, let’s be sure to acknowledge that there are a lot of individuals and programs who have dedicated themselves to movement-wide initiatives – thanks to NEC and the Fellows, the Take A Stand Partners, Sistema Global, Rep + Resource, The Alliance, El Sistema USA, The Ensemble, and individuals like Tricia Tunstall, Joe Hamm, Jamie Bernstein and the many more I am not naming.

In L.A., I proposed a revised definition of what it means to be in the El Sistema- inspired movement. The new understanding: all members of this movement dedicate 5% of their work time to efforts that advance the whole field, national or global. That would mean, for example, that a fulltime administrator commits two hours a week to this work; a four-hours-a-week viola teacher gives just under an hour a month.
Imagine how much we could get done, with our smarts, passion, and that kind of person power. Joe Hamm would have great data quickly – letting our field (and our potential funders) know who we are. We would be able to gather a rich body of our best practices to share to speed up the evolution of our programs, and enable new programs not to be re-inventing wheels. Then as projects arise like a National El Sistema Youth Orchestra, or something we haven't yet imagined but that national funders might support, we can pour in energy and help it take off well with the confidence of our effectiveness.

Can you see yourself accepting this responsibility? Program leaders, can you see yourself establishing this as employment policy with your staff? In my view, we have to change this mindset, and if the response in LA is a fair indicator, hundreds of our friends and colleagues are willing to commit that 5%, not as an another burden or obligation (we already have enough responsibilities), but eagerly to get our movement moving.

Here are three suggestions to keep this idea 5% growing into new habits of mind.

1. Write it into key documents. Mission statements can proclaim to be part of the national/global endeavor. Job descriptions can state the 5% expectation. Planning lists can include 5% time projects. Team meeting agendas can explore and report 5% work.

2. Learn about the larger movement and start speaking about it—in every presentation about your program mention the national and international movement; when you talk to friends and supporters, keep them aware of growth in the larger movement you can be proud to be a part of. Keep up on accomplishments and activities so you can share the true vitality of what is happening.

3. Take action. Starting now! At the Take A Stand symposium, Louise Lanzillotti, began collecting suggestions for national projects we have available right now. Louise will use the Rep + Resource site ( to post these ideas so you can choose what you would like to pour your 5% into. She collected the following ideas to get started—jump right in and get started. Send any contributions or ideas to her at When she returns from an overseas trip, she and her team will start organizing and posting our field's new resources. And if you have additional ideas or projects to propose, send them to Louise, talk to friends, talk to The Alliance, move things forward.

What might you pour your 5% into? Some ideas already suggested:
• Write up/submit resources to Rep+Resource for others to use (please send pdfs) –

Repertoire - choral music, wind ensemble music, repertoire lists, whatever you have - please send it as a pdf

Resources - parent handbooks, student agreements, professional development materials, audition processes, mission statements, FAQs and answers, links to other large resource banks, curriculum, theory packets, game resources, ideas for camp sessions, ways to review after breaks, how to do inventory, instrument maintenance tips, evaluations and assessments, ideas for working with special needs children …

• Start and join conversations on Sistema Global
• Share letters to newspapers, articles, blogs about the movement
• Propose conference presentations about the national movement
• Learn about the national movement, and connect with people around the world – join Sistema Global, keep up with the Alliance, go on Sistema Global
• Partner with other nucleos in specific experiments and share the results
• Write up promising practices for others to learn from, and submit to special issues of The Ensemble and to Rep + Resource.

And be sure to share what you have done, to encourage others. We are changing a habit, and that takes time and consistent investment in the new habit. Other national or multi-national networks around the world are already doing this, and harvesting the benefits.
Thanks to all for honoring, for embodying, what we ask of our students – to pour your full heart into being an essential contributing part of a much larger whole.
Eric Booth

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