International music program comes to Sandpoint

By Cameron Rasmusson
Reader Staff

An orchestra is all about creating something bigger than the sum of its parts, and that’s a perfect metaphor for El Sistema.

Participating students sing during choir practice. Courtesy photo.

The international orchestral music program brings in youth of all ages to practice and perform music, connecting them with others and allowing them to reach their full potential as musicians and as individuals. Likewise, it connects regions participating in the program with one another, forming a broader community around the power of music. It’s even bringing local organizations together as they work to prepare a major event of theater and music later this year.

Hosted by the Music Conservatory of Sandpoint, El Sistema is designed to give students a positive outlet to create lasting life skills and help them avoid destructive habits or life choices. It began in Venezuela as a program to combat gang activity, and it proved so successful that it has spread into international communities. Sandpoint is one of the few rural communities to participate in the official El Sistema program.

“It doesn’t give kids something to do but something of high quality,” said Karin Wedemeyer, director of the Music Conservatory of Sandpoint.

On Jan. 30 and 31, Janice Wall, director of El Sistema for the Music Conservatory of Sandpoint, traveled to Detroit for a conference to better understand how to implement the program locally.

“I learned a lot from that conference,” she said. “I got a bigger picture, and it solidified in my mind what El Sistema is all about.”

Much of the conference focused on connecting local El Sistema directors together, broadening the network of individuals working within the system. Wall also gained new insights about how to integrate the program into the broader North Idaho community.

“I found that as we listened around, we have more challenges than urban areas,” she said. “Part of it is the distance we’re trying to serve.”

As with other conservatory programs, El Sistema is designed to connect not just Sandpoint students to the benefits and community of an orchestra, but also youth in outlying areas like Clark Fork and Priest River. In all cases, the idea is to make the program available for everyone regardless of financial circumstances. The conservatory has also introduced some novel elements to classic program, like providing healthy snacks for students to keep their energy up and their minds sharp.

Coordination with other organizations is another major element to Sandpoint’s El Sistema program. In fact, the El Sistema team is working with Christine Holbert of Shakespeare in the Park on a Celebration of Arts and Cultures set for July 27 at Memorial Field. It will be an exciting fusion of talents to bring classic theater and music to Sandpoint this year.

Of course, for all the excitement on the horizon, the real benefit comes back to the life-changing skills and connections students develop through the program.

“I hear from many of them that it’s their home away from home,” Wedemeyer said.

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