The Miami Music Project: Light at the end of the tunnel

Arts / Article

By Sebastián SprengVisual Artist and Classical Music Writer

It was three years ago at the  Adrienne Arsht Center, with strong support of the Knight Foundation. It was a concert by the first “musical ambassadors of the 21st century,” that the Miami Music Project was officially launched. It was an idea that gradually took hold, became a reality and weathered the stormy economy thanks to its merit, the tenacity of its advocates and the enthusiastic response of its beneficiaries. Founded and directed by James Judd, the remembered conductor of the Florida Philharmonic Orchestra, the Miami Music Project enables thousands of school children to learn about music from professionals who perform and mentor in selected public schools, and reaches hundreds more through orchestral instruction and compelling performing opportunities.

Since the resounding success of El Sistema, founded by José Antonio Abreu in Caracas in 1979, the concept has spread and multiplied, taking on different shapes around the world. Inspired by the Venezuelan’s work, the MMP has found in James Judd a passionate believer and advocate. From Vienna, where he is currently conducting, the British maestro said: “In the MMP the children come first, because we believe that just as music is an essential part of our lives, we would like it to be for them.”

At present, the MMP is developing three symbiotically related programs. Judd explains: “First, there’s the In-School Residency – under which the MMP String Quartet and Brass Quintet present an interactive performance program to elementary and middle school children in Title I public schools, where, unfortunately, music programs have been lost. We also offer our adopted schools mentoring assistance with existing ensemble programs.”

“Secondly, there’s the Miami Music Project Orchestral Academy, where children ages 4-18 take part in our after-school program three times a week, receiving individual training in theory and ensemble playing from professional musicians,” says Judd. “There are three different orchestras within the academy to accommodate the different levels of experience. The first academy programs were offered in the Doral area. In just eight months, the number of participants went from seven to more than 160. We are in the process of partnering and offering programs in Little Haiti and Liberty City. This program is conducted under the guidance of Susan Siman, who worked in Venezuela with Antonio Abreu in the early days of El Sistema and was a teacher of Gustavo Dudamel.”

“The third is the Miami Music Project Honors Orchestra, run in partnership with The Arsht Center. The MMP Honors Orchestra provides an opportunity for the best young players in the area, ages 13-21, to play major orchestral literature at the Arsht Center’s Knight Concert Hall after an intensive period of sectional and tutti rehearsals led by demanding, accomplished and passionate local professionals.”

On Sunday, Nov. 6  at 2pm, the MMP Honors Orchestra will celebrate its third anniversary with an concert by the young musicians’ orchestra under Judd’s direction at the Arsht Center’s Knight Concert Hall. The program is Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony, a great work that will put the new group’s skills to the test.

In his essay, Everything is Connected: The Power of Music, maestro Daniel Barenboim warns that the absence of musical education in schools will make future generations unaware that “developing musical intelligence is a basic need.” The MMP is a unique project that aims to cultivate musical passion in the young, hoping to revert that process. Its benefits are already observable, and if the worthy example of El Sistema has borne undeniable fruit after decades of constant effort, this undertaking deserves the launching pad and support a community can provide.

All musicians everywhere stress the urgent need to educate and train children as performers or audiences. One young star, Spanish pianist  Javier Perianes, summarized it well in his recent Miami visit: “This is a gift, and it should be perceived and presented as such to young people.” The gift is the chance to enjoy and preserve the cultural heritage that is rightfully theirs. Such projects as the MMP should be strengthened, as they allow us to glimpse the light at the end of the tunnel.

Tickets priced at $20 general admission & $10 for students with Valid Student ID available at arshtcenter.org, call: 305-949-6722. For more information about the Miami Music Project’s programs, visit: www.miamimusicproject.org