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El Sistema USA® partners with The Peabody Institute of The Johns Hopkins University to award up to two full scholarships for music study to students of El Sistema-inspired organizations each year. We asked two of our alumni and recipients of this full tuition scholarship to offer us words of encouragement and to hear about what they’re most excited about for this fall. Marcus Gee from Kidznotes in Durham, North Carolina and Elizabeth Perez-Hickman from Miami Music Project in Miami, Florida offer their insights below.

Elizabeth smiles in front of a lake with a clarinet clutched in her right hand.

Elizabeth Perez Hickman

Miami Music Project, Miami, FL

El Sistema inspired programs should consider helping students with their reimmersion of music IN PERSON. We spent a lot of time online and I think that while we were virtual, it was easy for a lot of us to avoid participation or even the nerves of playing for other people. But now that we are in person, we have to be more aware of others and of course go back to the more social part of playing music. People applying to college will also have their first in-person auditions after not doing any playing in person at all for a few months.

I’m super excited to experience my first year in college! I’m also looking forward to getting to know my new roommate, my new teachers, and making new friends! I recently won the Jack Kent Cooke scholarship through NPR’s From The Top which will allow me to buy my first professional instrument! I’m going to begin the instrument trial process in the fall with my new teacher! I’m also super excited to be able to visit my friends and family close by. I have 2 sisters who live closeby and some of my bestfriends live in Philadelphia and New York so I’m excited to be able to take a train and go see friends I haven’t seen in a while! Non-school related, I’m also super excited for YOLA National Institute to start again and see what happens now that there’s more possibility of us meeting in person!

In the middle of a large ornate library, Marcus balances on his right leg with both arms and left leg outstretch.

Marcus Gee

Kidznotes, Durham, NC

As we head into the fall, I believe that El Sistema-inspired programs should consider not adding additional nerves or stress on top of what the kids are dealing with (School or Non-School related). Most kids come to after school programs to learn, grow, have fun, or simply to do something that isn’t offered in their school curriculum. The last thing we want to do is to discourage kids and make them feel uncomfortable within their musical environment. Last year was a very difficult time for me not only because of the pandemic but because of school, college auditions, essay’s, and not being able to see most of my friends and family from my program. Having to go through the college application and audition process was the main stress factor. Fast forwarding to the present, I am glad I had the support from my fellow teachers and staff from my El-Sistema program as they have really helped me out. One last thing that I think all El-sistema programs should do not only for this school year, but years from now is to establish stronger student to teacher connections! In times like this, I feel it is necessary to come from a place of understanding and put yourself in that child’s shoes and listen to what it is they have to say. There’s never a day where you can’t learn something new!

I am excited about starting my first year of college is being able to meet other incredible people from across the globe, and sharing the love of the arts with one another ! One thing that I am a little nervous about is moving out and living on my own, haha!

Be sure to tag @elsisistemausa on your back to school social media posts so we can share the excitement with others! Next month, we will be calling on all ESUSA member students to submit videos and Q+As for a chance to be featured on the ESUSA Instagram and TikTok accounts.

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