El Sistema LogoThis article written by Lani Aloha Garner, Area 9 Chime Loan Recipient

El Sistema OKC is a unique after-school music program that serves over 250 underserved and disadvantaged public school children in the heart of Oklahoma City. Students receive an orchestral instrument and music instruction five days a week and participate in one of three orchestras: Nueva, our newest and youngest musicians; Alegria, our intermediate-level musicians; and Esperanza, our advanced musicians. El Sistema OKC students are bused from area schools to our facility, given a small meal and time to work on homework, then attend guided small group instrument practice and participate in a music class. On Fridays, the students gather for a full orchestra rehearsal, giving them the opportunity to experience music in a larger performance-based setting.

Daily music classes guide students in reading, writing, and creating music in an interactive classroom environment. Students meet bi-weekly in both a Creative Music class and a Music Fundamentals class. Our wonderful Area 9 chimes are currently incorporated into the regular Creative Music curriculum. El Sistema OK students range from the 3rd through 8th grades. However, the students using the chimes, in the Creative Music classes, are 4th – 6th graders and include members from both the Esperanza and Alegria orchestras. While we would love to include every group in the chime sharing, logistics makes this nearly impossible.

The students are so excited for the opportunity to play the handchimes. Last fall we spent a great deal of time learning how to hold the chimes, how to take care of the chimes, and how to create chords. Students were excited to see how quickly they could create beautiful sounds. During the holiday season, our students learned the song, “Bring in the Holly,” arranged by Lani Garner, and “Glorioso,” arranged by Francisco Venegas. Both Garner and Venegas are lead teachers for these classes. The most exciting part of the process to this point was inviting the Nueva group to join our classroom and to sing while we played the chimes. Venegas additionally accompanies this group on guitar. The Nueva group enjoyed having the opportunity to glance into the “big kids’” classes and to participate in their activities. Likewise, the older group enjoyed meeting the younger part of the El Sistema OKC family. We hope to do another song later this Spring that will allow for this type of vertical collaboration.

During the next few weeks, students will be composing original pieces of music and playing their creations on the chimes. Ideally, we would like to record everyone’s piece and create “Aurasmas.” Aurasma is an online application, dowloadable for tablet and smartphone systems, which allows parents and friends to see and hear songs and videos simply by holding their smartphone’s camera over a picture of the student (the app links the photo to a song or video). We will hang these pictures up around the performing area during our Spring Concert for students, parents, friends, and the community to enjoy either before or after our final Spring concert, on May 4th at 6:00 p.m., at the Rose State College Performing Center. Please join us!