Using music education to fight poverty in north Minneapolis

Second-grader Tierra McGuire listens to instructions from Minnesota Orchestra violinist Pam Arnstein Thursday, Oct. 31, 2013 at Nellie Stone Johnson Community School. McGuire is taking part in El Sistema, an after school music program for students in north Minneapolis. Jennifer Simonson / MPRNews

The El Sistema after school program at Nellie Stone Johnson Elementary School in north Minneapolis uses music and more to fight poverty. I’ll explain how today in a new Minnesota Sounds and Voices report as part of All Things Considered.

The 12 volunteers work with 22 students four days a week for some intensive violin instruction. They also work with the school to help the students and their families with basic needs including food and clothing.

The volunteers, including co-founders Tricia Morgan Brist and Kelly Carter, are music educators and professional musicians. At this point, everyone in the two-year-old effort is donating their time; the stringed instruments have been donated by local music businesses, and the school is donating space and other support.

Volunteer Pam Arnstein, a first violinist with the locked-out musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra, says a friend of hers in the Bloomington, Ind., El Sistema program had someone with deep pockets step forward and write a big check for them.

There’s quite a long story behind the founding of El Sistema 38 years ago in Venezuela, and there are interesting online items with the founder, Jose Antonio Abreu, explaining the concept.

Many people who love music already buy the argument it has the power to change lives.