Adventism and the Arts: Turning Troubled Kids into Excited Musicians
By Helena Pett, March 18, 2015 Do Re Mi Fa So La Ti Do! Thanks to Caesura Youth Orchestra, more children are learning the meaning behind these seemingly meaningless two-letter words. “#” no longer is confined to social media. A caesura is no longer “the railroad tracks.” The name for the Caesura Youth Orchestra was chosen because in musical notation, a caesura represents a place where there is to be a complete break in the music before continuing on to the proceeding notes. The musical notation looks like a set of railroad tracks, thus the common reference. This metaphor described wonderfully the vision of the Caesura Youth Orchestra (CYO) to “provide urban youth with a positive community where they can through music experience a break from the negative impact of drugs, gangs and economic disadvantages.” Due to the unfamiliarity of the term “caesura,” it has become a great opportunity for conversation.
Dave Ferguson, the current president of Caesura Youth Orchestra, started the ball rolling following a conversation with Peter Luna, a friend and retired Adventist pastor in 2012. After reading the recommended book, Changing Lives: the Transformative Power of Music, about a monumental music education program in Venezuela called El Sistema, and letting the message settle, Ferguson decided in 2013 that “it was time to make this project happen.” After evidencing the success of El Sistema, Ferguson knew this was what this community in southern Glendale, California, caught in the cycle of drugs, gangs, and poverty, needed. 2014 came and the metronome of momentum picked up its pace. After filing for a non-profit status, forming a Board of Directors made up of church and community members, and burning the midnight oil, the group was ready to accept its first 24 students in the fall of 2014.
“Students began with virtually no musical knowledge. They didn’t know a quarter note from a quarter rest. They didn’t know the names of any of the notes on a staff. They couldn’t play any notes on the recorders they were given without just making a squeaky sound. They now know all of these music terms and are able to play together in tempo, starting and stopping together as an ensemble. The students regularly perform short concerts for their parents, allowing them to see the progress their child is making. Recently, the students were invited to perform in the lobby of a local hospital.” (Dave Ferguson, President of CYO)
Each student is selected based on principal recommendation and economic need, showing that the student will benefit from participating in CYO but does not have the financial means to attend private lessons. Initially each student receives a recorder to learn basic music education, notes, and performance techniques. The students then are able to choose which instrument they would like to play, and are able to keep the donated instrument if they participate in the group for 3 years. Dave Ferguson reports that this eagerly anticipated transition is quickly approaching for the excited children! CYO meets 4 days a week for 2 hours per day, giving the students 8 times as much musical education each week than they would receive during the regular school week. Professional musicians teach the class for a meager stipend, giving the children premium experience and education. As a part of CYO, the children are also able to attend performances of local orchestras at no charge, in preparation for their own concerts.
As the program expands, a Summer Music Camp is scheduled for June 8-July 10, where students will meet 5 days a week, receiving 1 hour of music education, 1½ hours sectional rehearsal, lunch, and an hour of ensemble rehearsal. Next fall, there are plans to expand into two additional elementary schools, with hopes to have additional classes at each of the schools the next year. In the big picture, CYO is planning on expanding even further to follow the children through middle school and high school, while maintaining the elementary program as well, creating multiple levels of orchestra.
Community participation is alive and well in CYO. Partnerships include the Glendale Arts and Culture Commission, Glendale Arts, Glendale Public Library, Music teachers and administrators of Glendale Unified School District, Glendale Youth Orchestra, Glendale Healthy Kids, Communitas Initiative, Glendale Philharmonic Orchestra, and the Glendale City SDA Church. La Sierra University Orchestra donated music to help launch Caesura. Close relationships have been formed with Los Angeles Philharmonic YOLA project, the Harmony Project, and the Thornton School of Music at USC. Classrooms are provided by the Glendale Unified School District.
Further community involvement is gladly welcomed. Dave Ferguson points out some ways in which you can get involved:
-Donations of cash on their website (below)
-Donation of instruments either new or used that have been sitting idly on a shelf that we can refurbish.
-Supervision/assistance during rehearsals, especially musicians who would like to make a difference in the lives of children and can help with workshops and sectional rehearsals.
-CYO is also looking for a Program Director who will be salaried, to oversee the work of CYO.
It is important to note, Ferguson says, that Caesura is “not trying to convert people through this outreach program. Instead, we are providing ‘disinterested benevolence.’ Will we see an impact on our church through this program? Most certainly. Members are already more engaged in the community. Leaders in the city of Glendale from the City Council, Board of Education, Department of Arts and Culture are seeing a church that is different from many others because it is seeking to provide for needs within the community. Will we add new members to our congregation through this program? Maybe, but what we are doing is the work of Jesus to help those who need our help enriching their lives and making our city a better place. The rest is up to the Holy Spirit.”
Although Ferguson says that starting a new organization from nothing is “the most difficult work [he has] ever done,” witnessing children helping classmates who have just arrived from Armenia who speak no English, or students translating English for a child who comes from a Spanish-speaking home; seeing students come in craving attention, causing disruption, and be able to channel that energy to performing solos and memorizing music has made his vision and passion grow that much more.
To see the children in action, performing on their recorders, head to: https://www.mycyo.org/first-duet-performance-by-the-cyo-group/
CYO has two performances planned, one during their spring fundraiser, and a second following the Summer Music Camp.
Please feel free to visit the Caesura Youth Orchestra’s website at: www.mycyo.org to see more
of the exciting news and happenings at CYO, or email Dave@mycyo.org to sign up to receive their newsletter!