KidZNotes- Another Way Durham Will Distinguish Itself

Pic of Kidznotes webheader with Katie Wyatt

by Jay on December 12, 2010

Another Fabulous Program from the Downtown Durham Rotary Club

Note: This is republished from a write-up I did of a program presented to the Downtown Durham Rotary Club. The club is the largest Rotary club in our district and one of the ways we’ve been able to recruit and hold members is several years of really great programs delivered by Program Committee Chairs Don Stanger, Malcolm White and Carver Weaver.

The closest I’ve ever come to being part of a musical performance was carrying the bass drum on my back in a parade with a Boy Scout drum and bugle corps. The nuns at St. Bridget’s trying to put together a choir designated me a “listener.”  My grandmother who was a fan of Lawrence Welk once threatened to buy me an accordion which inspired me to try out for football. In a college music appreciation class filled mostly with jocks looking for an easy A, I got a C.

Music has not been a big part of my life. So, why did Katie Wyatt’s viola introduction to the program on Kidznotes have me in tears and wondering “where did that come from?”

When we talk about the power of music, we do usually mean its ability to evoke emotions and Kidznotes will no doubt do that. But as Ms. Wyatt took pains to point out Kidznotes and El Sistema the Venezuelan “system” that it is modeled after is less about music education than a social movement to take kids in poverty and build their intellectual capacity and social skills. As El Sistema’s founder Jose Abreu has said “The moment you give a child an instrument, you give the child a reason to hope.” But why classical orchestral music? There’s a great explanation on the Kidznote website but in a nutshell, it teaches kids how to work together for a common purpose, in this case to create beauty.

Jose Abreu began the movement in Venezuela in the 70’s. A Sixty Minutes profile of Abreu and El Sistema pointed out that the movement has flourished through 8 Venezuelan governments lest anyone think it is some sort of a socialist plot to brainwash kids…my first thought before watching the episode…and it has trained over 800,000 kids, 90% in poverty and often beginning at 3 or 4 years old. There are currently 300,000 kids enrolled at 180 community-based centers in Venezuela.  Although Venezuela is a country of less than 30 million people it now has over 70 children’s orchestras and 150 youth orchestras.

In July, Ms. Wyatt assumed the post of Executive Director of KidZNotes after graduation from the Abreu Fellows program which is an intensive year of study in social entrepreneurship and the curriculum, methods and philosophy of El Sistema.  The KidZNotes program began in September with about 60 children spanning pre-K through 3rd grade. The program is a pilot but Ms. Wyatt clearly indicated that her ambitions are that it grow much larger here and in other North Carolina locales and around the country.

Ms. Wyatt is a poised and talented presenter as well as a musical performer. I don’t know whether she put together the website of KidZNotes (www.KidZNotes.org) but if she did she’s talented in that area too.  The better a Rotary program is the more of a struggle it is to try to capture its essence in a few paragraphs. Which means I am grateful for such sources.  I urge anyone with an interest in kids or music to visit the site. It is an excellent source of additional information about the program and El Sistema. I especially recommend a video of another presentation Ms. Wyatt made to the TEDx conference in Charlotte. If you dig a little bit under the MEDIA tab there is also the very well done 60 Minutes story on Jose Abreu and El Sistema in Venezuela. I’d seen it on television previously but the emotional impact was just as great as I watched it again and found my eyes watering up once more.

All these tears are not good for my image. But at least they are happy tears. What have I been missing all these years? How rich are these poverty stricken kids that learn to make these beautiful sounds? I wonder what my instrument is.

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