The Trenton Music Makers Orchestra brings together young people from second grade through high school into one community orchestra. As part of the El Sistema movement in the United States, we use music as a platform for social change. We meet 3-4 days per week after school on four school sites, including pre-orchestra for second graders, ensembles for third-fifth and sixth-eighth graders, and a string sectional for high schoolers. The players also study violin, viola, cello and bass in studio classes, develop their reading, improvisation and musicianship, learn bucket drumming, and choral singing, all the while building collaboration skills, peer leadership and learning the value of a shared struggle. They perform in public regularly, and join together twice per year with the member organizations of the El Sistema NJ Alliance, playing and celebrating together as an orchestra of over 250.
Orchestra members work with professional teaching artists, and they receive their own instrument for the year, to play in the program and take home to practice. Our diverse teaching artist team includes master teachers, freelance musicians, recent college graduates and music teachers hired from the local school district. Their various strengths are a winning combination – one that serves the children’s musical and social development in an unparalleled manner.
About El Sistema
El Sistema is a game-changer for urban communities, providing opportunities for young people to participate in music making at a level that was previously out of reach. It was founded 40 years ago in Venezuela, and local programs now serve more than a million children around the world. Participation in El Sistema-inspired programs like the Trenton Music Makers Orchestra has been shown to reduce gang participation, improve graduation rates, and provide a sense of purpose for young people.
In 2009, founder José Antonio Abreu was awarded the prestigious TED Prize, with a multi-million dollar grant that led to the founding of El Sistema USA, and training programs for leaders of this movement at New England Conservatory and Bard College. Since that time, Sistema programs have begun to flourish in major cities throughout the country. Millions of Americans were introduced to El Sistema by a 60 Minutes segment that aired on April 13, 2008, and have been following the movement as it grows. It is also now recognized for developing world-renowned musicians, such as Gustavo Dudamel, Music & Artistic Director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic - who will meet the Trenton Music Makers this year!
Why It Works
Music-making is a natural community builder. An orchestra is a team of one’s peers. Learning how to perform in harmony with others and contributing to the a common goal is an important ingredient in personal success. And as Trenton Music Makers youth also learn, music-making is the most fun you can have when you are working hard. The direct benefits of personal dedication serve their own growth, and support the experience of everyone around them.
We are grateful to the leadership of our host schools, and the administration of the Trenton Public Schools, for providing secure space for this program. These school partners also help us evaluate the impact of this intensive program on children's musical, academic and social development.