Category Archives: Nano-Interview

Nano-Interview with Bithyah Israel of City Strings United

BITHYAH ISRAELName: Bithyah Israel
Organization: City Strings United
Title: Founder and Executive Director
Music Genre: Cello! Varied styles
Years in the Field: 20

What do you do at City Strings United?
At City Strings United (CSU) I run all operations from recruiting teachers and students, teaching classes, replacing instruments, recruiting volunteers, and donor relations.

Why do you do what you do?
I do this work because when I was a child, I received free cello lessons, since my family could not afford them. A symphony cellist took it upon himself to do this, which gave me opportunities to perform in youth and civic orchestras. That experience lifted my heart and made my spirit soar. I want more children to experience such overwhelming joy. Having been blessed with such support growing up, I had hope even during trying times. I wish the same for today’s children.

What comes easiest to you in this work?
The easiest part of this work is dealing with children.  They show that they feel valued and they reciprocate. Kids are just fun. One day, as I was rushing down the aisle of the church we teach out of, probably to locate rosin or a cello pin holder for a student, I heard a little voice: “Lady, lady!” a high-pitched voice said. I noticed a 3-year old little girl looking up at me. She had been observing our cello class – probably a student’s little cousin. I stopped in my tracks. She looked up at me and confidently said, “I need a violin.” This took the cake. She saw that all the other children there had an instrument, and she knew she deserved one, too. Moments like that refresh me and push me forward, reiterating to me the vision for which I strive.

What challenges you in this work?
What challenges me is operating amidst a lack of adequate financial support for our grassroots organization. I must work long hours freelancing, so that I can pay my bills in addition to running CSU. I have many projects within CSU just waiting to be completed, when funds provide a staffer’s hours to do them. It’s scary every year when our resources become scarce, and grant applications, on top of all else I’m doing for the kids, are time consuming and not promised. Every year, I find I am able to accomplish more and more – this year, 4 grant apps have gone out…improving!!

What does it mean to do this work in this community?
The community tells me we give them hope, and that our program is providing our students a great platform. In the five years we’ve been running, we’ve appeared in The Boston Globe twice, on New England Cable News, at the Museum of Fine Arts, and been invited to collaborate in shared performances with a Boston Symphony Orchestra Chamber Ensemble and Celebrity Series of Boston. We’ve also performed with a Grammy-awarded drummer Terri Lynn Carrington and saxophonist Walter Beasley. So, the community is inspired with the great accomplishments and recognition our students have received in a relatively short amount of time. I have countless inspiring stories.

How do you blow off steam?
Let’s see… I talk it out with my friends or executive coach, drive to the beach, watch a movie, say a prayer, listen to gospel music, play my cello, laugh, exercise, and just take a nap (it took me 2-3 years to understand part of survival is to just STOP and REST.)

What do you create in your free time?
I enjoy writing music, cooking, and reaching out to loved ones and also community members who have been exceptionally supportive. I also like telling about my experiences or self in a comedic way, making others laugh. I get pleasure out of making others chuckle, even at my own expense. Being transparent seems to have a cathartic effect on others.

What music do you like listen to (if even a little too loudly)?
I listen to gospel, jazz, classical, pop (I have a ‘Road Tripping’ station on Pandora) and classic rock “Dream On…”

Seen any good movies lately?
I recently saw Hidden Figures. Once again, I am inspired by stories of triumph despite initial conditions of little support or appreciation. Integrity always wins.

What are you currently reading?
The autobiography of Frederick Douglass.

What’s next?
Hopefully succeeding in fulfilling our modest $50,000/year budget, then heading to the $100,000 level.

Besides writing music for CSU students to perform, I’ve begun writing music and acting in theatrical productions, usually historical plays. I hope to continue building my professional composing portfolio.

Nano-Interview with Silas de Oliveira of El Sistema Somerville

Silas de Oliveira of El Sistema SomervilleName: Silas de Oliveira
Organization: El Sistema Somerville
Title: Assistant Artistic Director
Music Genre: Classical
Years in the Field: 16

What do you do at El Sistema Somerville?
I’m responsible for curriculum planning, staff schedule, students engagement activities, parents integration, and etc. …

Why do you do what you do?
I do what I do because is a calling to serve my community and my peers. As an immigrant to the USA, I know firsthand the struggles immigrants go through. As a musician, I know how important it is to have exposure to high quality music lessons and instruments. I grew up in Brazil where I was unable to study cello. The only way I had access to music was in a church band learning alto sax and trumpet.

What comes easiest to you in this work?
I would say my connection with the students. I try everyday to make sure that they understand that I’m one of them and no matter how old you are, or how much education you’ve received or any other label society might put on us, we are one. We are humans beings that should respect and be respected. I strive to provide an environment where expressive creativity reigns free.

What challenges you in this work?
My constant awareness of the students’ cultural links, from video games, music hits, movies, lingo, books, etc… I feel that awareness of these factors can have a profound impact in your connectivity with them and their world.

What does it mean to do this work in this community?
I feel that the great Somerville community always has been very welcoming and accepting, and respects and invests in their citizens. Somerville was my first home in the USA, Somerville High School was my first school in the USA, and Somerville String Camp was where I met my beloved music teacher, Rita Ranucci, who inspired me not only to become a cellist, but also a teacher.  I’m honored to be working in the field and continuing her legacy in Somerville.

How do you blow off steam?
There are different things I like to do from skydiving, to sometimes just playing mini golf, or driving to North Conway, NH.

What do you create in your free time?
I love doing research on world cultures, practicing my cello or another instrument to better guide a student.

Whose work in the creative youth development field do you admire and why?
Eric Booth, he inspires me to always rethink, rearrange, and reshape my views, my teaching, and my planning.

What music do you like listen to (if even a little too loudly)?
Currently I’m addicted to Anitta and  Antonio Meneses.

Do you live with any animals?
Yes, my husband and I just got a puppy – a Chow Chow named Bach.

Seen any good movies lately?
Despicable Me 3

What are you currently reading?
Quiet Leadership: Six Steps to Transforming Performance at Work by David Rock

The unauthorized biography of your life is titled:
Did He Really?

What’s next?
Having a baby, and hopefully getting my masters in Conducting.

Connect with Silas:
Silasdeoliveira.com
Facebook.com/silas.deoliveira
https://www.linkedin.com/in/silas-de-oliveira-87880145

Nano-Interview with Deb Habib of Seeds of Solidarity

Deb Habib standing in a field of tall grass, holding a bouquet of fresh cut flowersName: Deb Habib
Organization: Seeds of Solidarity
Title: Co-Founder and Director
Artistic Genre: Supporting all that is beautiful
Years in the field: 30ish

What do you do at Seeds of Solidarity?
Our mission is to ‘Awaken the power of youth, schools, and families to Grow Food Everywhere, to transform hunger to health, and create resilient lives and communities.’ I envision and run programs, and support staff to help our mission blossom and remain innovative. SOL (Seeds of Leadership) Garden for youth is our core and longest running program, and engages young people in using their bodies, minds, and hearts to cultivate food and a hopeful future.

What comes easiest to you in this work?
Forming and sustaining community partnerships and relationships—not that this is easy, but it is very gratifying, unites diverse people and organizations, and enables good work to multiply and strengthen our communities.

What does it mean to your community that you do this work?
Our motto is Grow Food Everywhere and in addition to SOL Garden, we help create gardens at local childcare centers, libraries, the county jail, health centers, and for people in recovery, plus have taught 1000s of people techniques to build healthy soil and grow food on lawns, lots, or in containers. We also started the North Quabbin Garlic and Arts Festival with our neighbors, now a dynamic venue that supports local artists, performers and farmers while energizing our low-income rural community.

How do you blow off steam?
Dance around the house, re-center with yoga, or go out into nature for healing.

What do you create in your free time?
Writing, photography, pottery, and love to create meals of the food we grow on our farm to serve my family and whoever is at our table.

Seen any good movies lately?
The Eagle Huntress was beautiful.

What are you reading?
The Third Reconstruction. Moral Mondays, Fusion Politics, and the Rise of a New Justice Movement by Rev. Dr William J. Barber

The unauthorized biography of your life is titled:
Well, soon there will be an authorized one, albeit more memoir/motivational than biography. My husband Ricky and I are currently writing “Making Love While Farming: A Field Guide to a Life of Passion and Purpose.”

What’s next?
Carry on with resilience and love!

Nano-Interview with Marquis Victor of Elevated Thought

Marquis Victor of Elevated ThoughtName: Marquis Victor
Organization: Elevated Thought
Title: President / Executive Director
Artistic Genres: Film, Poetry
Years in the Field: 7.5

What do you do at Elevated Thought?
I lead Elevated Thought’s vision, objectives, goals, and mission and facilitate many of our programs and workshops. Additionally, I’ve developed various art and social justice based curricula including our youth empowerment programs Creative. Community. Change. (C3) and Wall Speak.

Why do you do what you do?
Every year that passes affirms my passion for and desire to see art infused, social action education introduced in the city of Lawrence and cities like it. Studying the history of colonization, slavery, and immigration, I know generations upon generations of the poor and marginalized have suffered from a lack of education and opportunities to expand their creativity and imagination. This passion has given me the confidence to do my small part in providing tangible hope within the current educational climate and within the communities we serve.

What comes easiest to you in this work?
Waking up everyday and never questioning what I do and its purpose.

What challenges you in this work?
For many high school youth who have never been asked to embrace and utilize their imagination, the process of creative discovery can be novel and, at times, utterly confounding. The majority of them have been creatively stunted in their schools and environment. Disillusioned by content that is far removed from their reality, their personal meaning is often defined largely by despair, escapism, self-aggrandizement, or base means of survival that develop in poverty-stricken areas. Opportunities afforded for the select few further marginalize the majority and deepen the dehumanization process. The dehumanization process begins early on and, for many of the youth we serve, takes place when their creative interests and imagination is demeaned and begins to deteriorate. Breaking down the barriers to creativity and reemphasizing their standing as creatively capable beings can be a long and arduous process.

What does it mean to your community that you do this work?
We believe, as do other organizations and individuals spearheading this recent insurgency of arts in the city of Lawrence, creativity and imagination are keys to progress and empowering the individual and larger community.

How do you blow off steam?
Basketball, watching films with my wife, reveling in family and fellowships.

What do you create in your free time?
Poetry, experimental films, and ways to make my 7-month-old laugh.

Whose work in the CYD field do you admire and why?
My mentor and good friend Dr. Lou Bernieri, Director of Andover Bread Loaf (ABL). ABL uses literacy to enable participants to release the power of their voice and their capacity for school and civic leadership. Elevated Thought has been greatly influenced by ABL, now working in Lawrence for almost 30 years.

What music do you like listen to (if even a little too loudly)?
Movie soundtracks, chillwave, ambient, and synth beats.

What are you currently reading?
The Magic of JuJu by Kalamu ya Salaam.

The unauthorized biography of your life is titled:
Inside the Outside of Self

More Elevated Thought:
Instagram
Twitter
Facebook
Vimeo

Nano-Interview with Marielisa Alvarez of Boston String Academy

Marielisa AlvarezName: Marielisa Alvarez
Organization: Boston String Academy
Title: Co-Director
Music Genre: Classical
Years in the Field: 15

What do you do at Boston String Academy?
I am Co-Director and Co-Founder of the organization along with my twin sister, Mariesther, and my friend and colleague Taide Prieto. I teach violin and viola in individual and group settings, and lead string ensembles for about 110 children ages 6 – 15 in three different sites around the city –  Chinatown, Allston, and Roxbury. Aside from my teaching duties, I also spend part of the day doing administrative work, class and event planning, fund-raising, marketing, etc.

Why do you do what you do?
I had the life changing experience of growing up in El Sistema in my home country of Venezuela and I would like many children to have similar experiences of growing and learning through music. I want to help them open their eyes to a world of possibilities and opportunities.

What comes easiest to you in this work?
I love what I am doing, and it comes very easy and natural to teach my students. I feel I can easily communicate and transmit my passion and excitement to them and they respond very well.

What challenges you in this work?
Not having enough time to do everything I would like to do. Finding resources to support  our vision and being able to offer this opportunity to many more children.

What does it mean to your community that you do this work?
Many children are having access to top quality classical music training that they otherwise would not be able to. The children are being exposed to sublime artistic impressions, they will become more sensitive, they will appreciate art, they will be able to interact and work well with others, they will be more confident and have the courage to reach higher in life, they will become well rounded human beings, and the best ambassadors and advocates for their families and communities.

How do you blow off steam?
Outdoor activities and dancing!

What do you create in your free time?
Tasty dishes

Seen any good movies lately?
Hidden Figures

What’s next?
Europe! Will be going to Finland this summer to the second phase of the amazing Colourstrings pedagogy workshop, and will visit some El Sistema-inspired programs in Europe as well.

Nano-Interview with Olga Marchenko of BalletRox

Olga MarchenkoName: Olga Marchenko
Organization: BalletRox
Title: Program Manager, Ballet Instructor
Artistic Genre: Dance
Years in the Field: 8

 

What do you do at BalletRox?
I am responsible for different aspects of BalletRox program, inclusive but not limited to curriculum design, student enrollment, student and program evaluation, production of recitals, and website development. As a ballet instructor I teach all levels ballet classes and choreograph for recitals and performances.

Why do you do what you do?
The mission of BalletRox organization is dear to my heart with its main objective to provide to expose Boston youth to dance and opportunities for mastery and performance, to which they would not otherwise have access, giving them discipline and a supportive community to succeed in life.

What comes easiest to you in this work?
Communication with students, especially our oldest group (12-18 years old). I believe in partnership between a student and a teacher, where I see myself more of an older friend, who knows just a bit more and likes to share her experiences with my younger friends. In turn, they know that there is a time for fun sometime but when there is a work to do they become professionals and work their hardest!

How do you blow off steam?
For me it is taking a simple walk in the park or forest on a sunny day does it. Having music on a background comes second to it. And of course, reading.

What music do you like listen to (if even a little too loudly)?
I’m an oldies person most of the time. Anything from Billie Holiday to the Beach Boys. At times however, could sway from hip hop to classical and somewhere in the middle with some lounge music.

What are you currently reading?
Life Without Limits by Nick Vujicic. A very inspirational autobiographical book about a person born without limbs, neither legs nor arms. Despite his physical limits he does not only lead a full life but encourages others to not give up hope in any circumstances.

Nano-Interview with Ian Gollub of Global Learning Charter Public School

Ian GollubName: Ian Gollub
Organization: Global Learning Charter Public School and Jazz Initiative
Title: Music Director
Music Genre: Trained in Jazz
Years in the Field: 13

What do you do at Global Learning Charter Public School and the Jazz Initiative?
I am the Music Director and General Music Educator for the entire program 5-12. I teach Middle School and High School Band, Jazz Band, Jazz Combo, and general music grades 5-8. Four years ago we had a non-existent performance program. Now nearly 1/3 of the entire school participates in a performing ensemble, band, chorus, or orchestra.

I built the Global Learning Charter Jazz Initiative (GLCJI) based on a similar model program I began in Newport, RI, and it was my hope the GLCJI would be the perfect space for young people to begin their musical journeys without worry about cost or instruments.

The GLCJI offers a safe space, instruments, tools, and serious instruction to young musicians who want to learn, explore, create, and promote jazz music and beyond. We offer ensemble and performance based curriculum free to students grades 3-12 in New Bedford, MA and the surrounding communities.

Why do you do what you do?
Having the opportunity to play music all day – all night – everyday is not a job, it’s a gift. I am grateful that I earn a living doing what I love. Growing up, I was fortunate enough to have the means and support to pursue my dreams of performing. I was able to study privately and attend great music workshops and programs. I also grew up knowing that, although I was fortunate enough to have such an opportunity, not everyone was as lucky.

I knew from the second I began teaching that, as often as possible, I wanted to create and promote music education opportunities at little or no cost to students. Many young people have a great desire to study and perform, and the only thing keeping them from sharing their musical energy and ideas is financial burden, distance to programming, and lack of resources (mainly instruments).

What comes easiest to you in this work?
Generating excitement for being musical comes easiest. I think this is only because I am so genuinely excited myself. I like to think my passion and excitement is infectious to my students and rubs off a bit.

What challenges you in this work?
Scheduling, time, and space are the main challenges. Currently our facility is a very charming and beautiful, but 100-year old former Catholic school building. Not much has changed in 100 years. Classrooms are small and definitely not designed for rehearsing ensembles. Sharing this space with other programming in the Global Learning Charter Public School community gets tricky. Fortunately, our program is respected and supported by administration, staff, and community therefore we don’t run into much trouble. Never having enough time is something there doesn’t seem to be a cure for!

What does it mean to your community that you do this work?
There is an incredible amount of musical energy, musical ideas, and genuine enthusiastic creativity found in our neighborhoods of Greater New Bedford. For that reason, the intent is to create a safe space and the means and tools for these young people to learn, create, and promote their music. It is not the lack of desire, but largely the lack of financial resources that discourages youth from learning to play a musical instrument and participating in a music program. Having opportunities like this in our community has been embraced.

How do you blow off steam?
I love playing and being silly with my 4 year-old and 2 year-old. Who doesn’t wish they could go back in time to when there wasn’t a care in the world and playing make-believe was some serious work?!

What music do you like listen to (if even a little too loudly)?
Tower of Power, Earth Wind and Fire, Steely Dan, Coltrane, Miles and Bird are my regular rotation.

Nano-Interview with Julie Lichtenberg of The Performance Project

Julie Lichtenberg of The Performance ProjectName: Julie Lichtenberg
Organization: The Performance Project
Title: Artistic Director
Artistic Genre: Theater
Years in the Field: 35

What do you do at The Performance Project?
With First Generation: I teach physical theater and work with groups of young adults to form an ensemble and create devised theater. Then we perform the pieces that we’ve created on college campuses, in theaters and other places. I also bring artists in to train with the ensemble and help develop the performances.  I schedule performances, fundraise, coordinate, work with interns, plan meals, plan sleepovers and retreats, transport, plan and host family events in collaboration with First Gen youth, go on field trips, celebrate birthdays and graduations.  I also teach and/or coordinate our Visual Arts programing.

Why do you do what you do?
Because I am always learning and being inspired by the First Generation community. We managed to create a little place that is caring, nurturing, creative, and fun, and we all dream big together.

What comes easiest to you in this work?
Sitting in the First Gen circle, talking and laughing is what comes easiest to me. I have never thought of this as “work.”  This is what I’ve always been driven to do as person and as an artist, and it’s taken different forms throughout the years. So I would say, I’m breathing, not working. But it’s not easy, because of what we have to do to keep it going.

What challenges you in this work?
Over the years, a big challenge has been, having to explain the many layers of our artistic community to someone who might only understand things in terms of distinct and separate categories.  That’s why I’ve been so grateful that there is finally the term, ”creative youth development,” which encompasses so much of what we do. Not all, but much of it. Also a big challenge is that sadly, we recently lost our home-base in Springfield, and that has been really difficult.

What does it mean to your community that you do this work?
More than one community engages with The Performance Project. Here’s some examples: First Gen youth have described First Gen as a safe space, fun, and second family. That First Gen supports them pursue their dreams. Their families say First Gen is a big support. People who come to our performances say they are moved and inspired, and often provoked to think about things. We have college interns who give a lot and learn a lot with us.

How do you blow off steam?
Watch movies. Workout. Laugh. Cry.

What do you create in your free time?
I write

Whose work in the creative youth development field do you admire and why?
Everett Company because they seem to be a truly inter-generational arts community. I admire their artistic work and their as their commitment to truth-telling and liberation.

Seen any good movies lately?
Moonlight

Nano-Interview with Ashleigh Gordon of Boston Youth Symphony Orchestra

Ashleigh Gordon. Image by MBSchroederPhotography

Name: Ashleigh Gordon
Organization: BYSO Intensive Community Program
Title: Viola faculty
Music Genre: Classical
Years in the Field: 15

What do you do at Boston Youth Symphony Orchestra’s Intensive Community Program?
I teach viola to beginner students, both privately and in groups, and even find myself teaching Kindergarteners violin as well.

Why do you do what you do?
My goals as an educator are to spark curiosity in the arts, foster necessary life skills through music, and serve as a mentor to each child. With each one of my students, I focus on establishing strong and healthy foundations while supporting them in their musical and life developments. Viewing education as an active process, I encourage all my students to learn how to be their own problem-solvers in and beyond the realm of music. I’m a firm believer in educating the entire person and view myself as a holistic mentor in my student’s growth as a musician and person.

What comes easiest to you in this work?
Being silly and being honest. Teaching allows me to tap into my inner child where I’m not afraid to embarrass myself to make a point, sing, dance, or even pretend to act to show a musical phrase, or think up silly analogies to make my students think and connect to the music they’re making.

What do you do in your free time?
In my “free” time I’m running a concert and educational series dedicated to celebrating Black culture, history, and classical music. As Artistic/Executive Director and violist of Castle of our Skins, I’m either designing concert programs, writing grants, performing viola in an “edu-tainment” program or educational workshop, or doing any of the other myriad things involved with the leadership. I’m also an active freelance chamber music with a passion for contemporary music and play with my own string trio that specializes in new music (called Sound Energy) or other groups in town including BMOP, Callithumpian Consort, and ECCE Ensemble.

Seen any good movies lately?
I’m usually not a big movie goer but I’ve been floored on my most recent trips to see Moonlight, Fences, and I am Not Your Negro. Still itching to see Hidden Figures.

What are you currently reading?
The news. Lots of it.

Nano-Interview with Rodrigo Guerrero of MCC

Rodrigo GuerreroName: Rodrigo Guerrero
Organization: Massachusetts Cultural Council
Title: Creative Youth Development Program Manager
Years in the Field: 17

What do you do at the Massachusetts Cultural Council?
I collaborate with my colleagues in the department in supervising the grant programs and providing applicants with technical assistance. Due to my background with El Sistema inspired initiatives around the world, I also manage the SerHacer Program which supports the growing number of intensive, ensemble-based music programs that use music as a vehicle for social change.

Why do you do what you do?
I had a very rocky schooling experience in my native Venezuela, typical education was not cutting it for me. Thanks to an attentive high school principal that helped me focus on the arts and humanities, I was able to find my way in life into a creative career. I want to make it easier on young people to find that principal, teacher, or mentor.

What comes easiest to you in this work?
There’s a lot of numbers attached to this work, attendance, retention, demographics, dosage, etc. Because I’m usually quite bad with numbers, I tend to look for what’s the story behind them and pull them together into a story that can be retold easily, so I guess translating data into compelling stories…

What challenges you in this work?
Preconceptions regarding artists, audiences, individual growth, and public benefit.  So much of our work balances on challenging these, so that more support is gathered and more communities are benefited. It’s always difficult to understand how different people or positions simply have a very different perspective on what they consider to be valuable, so one always needs to take a couple of steps back and try to realize where the other person or group comes from. This process can happen quickly, but sometimes requires considerable thought and conversation before reaching common ground, and typically time is working against everyone… Sometimes it’s exhausting, but it is always quite rewarding.

How do you blow off steam?
I’m an avid board and strategy gamer. I find games to be an excellent exercise in management and creativity within set boundaries. Winning or losing is not as relevant to me as the actual social experience.

What do you create in your free time?
I’m a very curious cook and foodie, so I’m always keen on creating and participating in exciting culinary experiences and experiments…I also paint miniatures and components for my gaming hobby.

Whose work in the CYD field do you admire and why?
I had the privilege of working for many years with the founder of El Sistema, Maestro Jose Antonio Abreu, and I find his work falls completely in line with the principles of Creative Youth Development.  Maestro Abreu’s dedication in creating a national network of music education caused dramatic change in the professional landscape in Venezuela, one where the arts and the artist are integral to the communities they exist in.

As much as I realize that this was possible in part to the very peculiar historical moment of El Sistema’s birth, I see much of Abreu’s drive, creativity, and passion in many CYD organizations in Massachusetts, which is why I took this job in the first place!

What music do you like listen to (if even a little too loudly)?
I’m an eclectic mess… my old iPod classic can go from Progressive Rock’s Yes and Rush to Tango all stars like Piazzola and Gardel, Dvorak’s American Quartet or Romero’s Venezuelan Onda Nueva, Tom Jobim’s Bossa with Elis Regina, or Argentinean Rock with Soda Stereo and Andres Calamaro, oh I love Regina Spektor. This is a  a complicated question…

The unauthorized biography of your life is titled:
“Taking joy in discreetly making things happen”

What’s next?
Learning to deal with four seasons instead of two, hitting the road to all corners of Massachusetts to meet and support amazing programs and young artists, but most of all to keep working to support and showcase the amazing field of practice that is Creative Youth Development, not only to our constituents and legislators, but to the world at large.