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  • Writer's pictureJim Pinchen

Drugs, Violins and the Mariachi Music Teacher....


I'm now going to TRY and make these bloggs quite short.... If you are like me then too many words is generally quite off putting and can come across a tad egocentric (like long, detailed minutes of meetings or facebook threads that read like a chapter in a book.....)

Over the last couple of days I have interviewed a number of students and for me there are some very interesting themes and models emerging.....

When asked about why the music sessions are important to them all the students and their parents talk very eloquently about local problems with drugs and gangs and how music is a powerful divergent to them. Now, I'm not a classical musician but there's something very unique and special about the cross curriculum, educational, creative and aspirational benefits of classical music for these young people. The educational and creative stuff is well documented but there's something else. No matter how subtle or overt the implication, classical music is so often seen as an additional privilege for the well educated middle and upper classes. There's a societal assumption that "easier" music forms like rock or electronica would be more appropriate for these communities (note I put 'easier' in inverted commas). It appears to me that these children have had to first overcome the negative stereotypes that Mexico and the world gives to Juarez communities, then learn how to read music, master technically difficult instruments, learn the dynamics of playing as an orchestra and then go on to perform in a prestigious venue in the city. I think it's that whole process that plants a seed of aspiration very, very deep and it stays and grows with a child and simply overpowers negative or superficial aspirations. It's clear also that music has something special and that many community projects only light up the surface of the skin and then dissipates until the next project comes along.


Numbers are very high in these music sessions but there's also an interesting model to address this. Older young people who have come through the programme act as assistant teachers leaving the lead teacher to float and observe the class as a whole. I especially like the way that well known music scores are broken down to be accessible for those who are new or less able. I know this process is now used globally, often with 'El Sistema' inspired projects but sadly this process is still rare within UK formal music education. (more on this in another blogg)

Finally in this blogg the mariachi music teacher. I love that a teacher arrived in full mariachi costume and I think that traditional dress should now be obligatory uniform for all music services/organisations in UK! I mention her not only because of the amazing rapport she has with the children but also because she lead a physical activity after the music lessons. The music lessons here form only part of what Ccompaz provide. There is a healthy meal ready for when children arrive, musical lessons in different genres and physical exercise to end with.


To conclude, there is sometimes a sentiment from my colleagues in Mexico that surely in Europe we are have more advanced models of education and therefore my learning here will be small or insignificant. The truth is that we seldom look at the complete needs of the child in the way that Ccompaz do (dietary, physical, mental, educational, societal, creative) and we certainly don't make western classical music accessible across the board. That said, there are some things that we do bloody well. Accessible music making opportunities for those with mixed ability, harnessing of technology, access to a wide range of genres, singing and for me most important of all.... issue based song-writing. As I keep saying to my main contact here.... Alma, these kids want to sing!


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