National Alliance of El Sistema Inspired Programs

Dear Friends,

The time is quickly coming for you to give final input into the shape, purpose, and implementation of the new National Alliance of El Sistema Inspired Programs!  During the past two months, three committees have been busily working to draft the proposed By-laws, Ratification and Implementation (business) Plans for the Alliance.  These documents include everything from proposed membership categories, voting rights, board structure, to dues and staffing.  A huge amount of work has been done by about 20 very dedicated individuals from all over the country and we will soon be seeking your final advice on their proposals before we begin the official process of registering members, voting on the board, and opening the National Alliance.

During the next two weeks, the Planning Committees will be coordinating with each other to put the final touches on their documents.  These documents will then be sent out to the entire Working Group on or about August 9, 2012.  After you have received the documents, we ask that you read them carefully and discuss them with your colleagues.  We will then be hosting a series of national conference calls of the Working Group to discuss the contents of the by-laws and plans.  The schedule of these calls is:

  1. Tuesday, August 14 11:30am-1:00pm (EST)
  2. Wednesday, August 22 11:30am-1:00pm (EST)
  3. Wednesday, August 29 11:30am-1:00pm (EST)

Conference Dial-in Number: (760) 569-0111
Participant Access Code: 121767# 

It is also likely that we will be sending out survey requests from the Planning Committees on specific sections of the By-laws and Plans to be certain that we obtain the widest input possible and also that individuals who are not able to participate in all the calls still have the opportunity to provide input.

We ask that you please put aside the time necessary to review the By-laws, Ratification, and Implementation Plans and to participate in the calls in this final stage of review.  As has been said all along, the Alliance will only be as strong as the investment we all make in creating it and supporting it once it opens.  Countless hours have been invested by all of you getting the Alliance to this amazing juncture.  Please put your best ideas into this final stage of review so that we can be satisfied and proud of the new organization we create to strengthen our work and the impact of El Sistema on the nation’s neediest children.

Stan and Beth

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Drafting Convention Summary

The Drafting Convention started at an evening meeting on Friday, April 27, over dinner, continued the next day, from 8:30- dinner time on Saturday, and then again from 8:30-2:00 on Sunday, April 29.  There were approximately 30 individuals in attendance representing nucleos from all over the US, nucleo training programs, and orchestras. We were blessed with a rich array of participant skills because attendees were nucleo leaders, board members, and staff, and also students, academics, academic administrators, and orchestra administrators.

Attendees did much of their work in three subcommittees:

  • By-Laws– which worked on draft Mission, Vision and Values statements and also a draft set of by-laws prepared by Louise Lanzillotti;
  • Ratification- which worked on definitions of membership, questions of dues, and also processes by which members would vote to ratify the by-laws, elect board members and board composition;
  • Organization Ramp-up/Implementation-which worked on how the new Association would get itself open, hire staff, raise money, and begin to serve the board and its members.

All these subcommittees worked very hard and brought their recommendations to the full group in attendance for wider input and some of the things they decided, along with approval of the larger group, took the prior work of the Working Group

ahead in quite significant ways. Perhaps some of the most important things that were recommended and generally agreed were:

  1. There appears to be a preference to call the Association something that better reflects the nature of the El Sistema movement, such as a “collective, network, or alliance.”
  2. Membership should be of three categories:  “Active Program Members,”  “Programs in Planning,” and “Friends.”
  3. Active Programs will likely be defined not as much by rigid criteria (such as a set number of hours of programming per week), but more by descriptive criteria (including a new one- teaching excellence), to which Active Programs will self-identify their alignment.
  4. Within the Active Programs, differences in structure, approach, programming, will be shared so that grouping may be made of programs with similar characteristics to facilitate outcomes research, collaboration, and learning.
  5. Active Programs will be allowed to nominate one representative to the Association board, and each active program will be given three votes for purposes of voting on by-laws and board membership.
  6. The board will have 17 members of which 13 will come from Active Programs (as outlined above) and the remaining 4 may come from outside Active Programs and will be elected by the Board itself.
  7. Nucleos, or systems of nucleos, which structurally share the same oversight board or fiduciary parent will be counted as one Active Program for the purposes of voting within the Association.
  8. All five regions of the US (as defined at the San Antonio summit last year) will have at least one representative on the Association Board.
  9. Dues will likely be charged member organizations, although the exact process of deciding dues levels is still being examined.
  10. The organization which will be opened to staff the board and facilitate the work of the Association will likely be incubated in the beginning within a neutral and non-competitive 501(c)3, while it raises funds and grows the organizational structure to spin-off on its own.
  11. The incubating organization will be chosen for its own administrative competence and also its ability to permit/support high visibility on the part of the Association as it begins its work.
  12. The Association will create a search committee of the Board to institute a national search for the new Executive Director of the Association and will conduct preliminary interviews.
  13. The Executive Director will ultimately be selected by vote of the Board as a whole.
  14. The Association will begin fundraising for its work immediately and will solicit donations using a charitable fiscal intermediary to accept such donations.

The ideas generated in the subcommittees extended far beyond the list above, but this will give you a flavor of just how much was done by these groups.

Perhaps what was more important than this was the extensive work done by the group of Drafting Convention participants as a whole.  There were hours of conversation about complex issues such as whether or not an association was truly the best architecture to use to further the movement (in particular, whether it might be too rigid a structure, coming too soon, redundant with existing networks and efforts on behalf of the larger movement and taking much needed time and resources away from the programs on the ground).

There were also extensive discussions grappling with issues of Association identity and branding and how to strike the right balance between having enough shared purpose and identity to give the work of the Association meaning, without it becoming so exclusionary that it did not embody the spirit of inclusion of the movement.  The group grappled with how to meaningfully identify the Association with the spirit and inspiration of El Sistema without giving the perception of claiming to be “The” (one and only) El Sistema organization in the US and clearly supporting our partners in Venezuela as they reach out to multiple organizations across the US to spread their inspiration and teaching.

These discussions required sustained focus, collaboration, and energy on the part of all the participants, but the ultimate conclusions achieved by the Drafting Convention group of the whole were the following:

  1. The entire group overwhelmingly voted to move ahead to work to establish the Association.
  2. They agreed to recommend to the larger Working Group (all those who have been involved for months in the work of building the Association) that the name of the Association should reexamined and possibly changed from the current working name, El Sistema USA (for example, another name popular with Drafting Convention participants was “Music for Social Change Alliance” with perhaps a tag line of something like “Inspired by El Sistema” but this needs to be discussed further).
  3. They agreed to a work plan calling for the three subcommittees (By-laws, Ratification, and Organization Implementation) to continue their workover the next six weeks, to finalize a draft set of by-laws, ratification plan, and business plan, which can then be sent out to be publicly vetted by all interested in the Association and its potential work.  The three leaders who agreed to facilitate the continuing work of the subcommittees were:
    1. By-Laws- Jackie Henning, board member of Youth Orchestras of Salinas (;
    2. Ratification-Louise Ghandhi, board chair of Verdugo Young Musicians Association, which runs the VYMA Pasadena Music Project (;
    3. Organization Implementation– Patrick Slevin, Executive Director, Austin Soundwaves (;
  4. They agreed that leaders from each of five areas of the US would then take all of the documents produced by the subcommittees and actively solicit input on these documents from all the nucleo leaders and other interested parties in their regions.  This input would be sought both through individual and also, to the extent possible, group input.  It was strongly recommended that regions attempt to hold regional convenings to discuss the documents. The leaders who agreed to facilitate gathering regional input and holding regional convenings were:
    1. California- Leni Boorstin ( and Louise Ghandhi (;
    2. West– Stephanie Hsu – ( WA, OR, ID, MT, WY, AK, HI, NV, UT, CO, AZ, NM;
    3. Midwest– Bob Fiedler ( and Mark Sarich ( ND, SD, NE, IA, MN, KS, MO, WI, MI, IL, IN, OH;
    4. Northeast-Rey Ramirez ( with the support/assistance of Kassie Lord (, Delia Raab-Synder (, Jennifer Kessler (, and Marie Montilla ( NY, VT, NH, ME, CT, MA, RI, PA, NJ, DE, MD;
    5. South- Katie Wyatt ( with the support/assistance of Liz Schurgin (, Ben Fuller (, and Patrick Slevin ( VA, WV, KT, TN, NC, SC, GA, FL, MS, AL, AR, LA, OK, TX.
  5. After regional input was obtained and the Working Group had a chance to process and incorporate this feedback into the documents, in approximately 3-4 months from now, and following the ratification process reviewed by the Working Group, member programs would register themselves, votes would be taken first on whether or not to approve the by-laws and move to incorporate the new Association, and then if the by-laws are approved, and according to by-laws specification, to vote on board membership representation.
  6. If the process outlined by the Drafting Convention participants proceeded according to their plan, voting on the by-laws, incorporation, and board membership would be completed in the August/September timeframe.

So, as you can see, there is much work ahead- both in the three subcommittees working on by-laws, ratification, and implementation plans, and also in the five regions of the US- to evolve the planning of and seek input into the new Association.  We hope that if you see a place in this work where you can lend your strengths and ideas, you will actively reach out to committee leaders to engage in the work.  If you don’t have time at this point to reach out to them, you can rest assured that to the best of their ability, committee leaders will be reaching out to you to seek your input.

There will be e-mails coming out to update you on the work and you will also find on-going information on the Association website (

Perhaps the most important thing that can be emphasized at this point is that what is being developed here is not a vehicle to serve all the nucleos in the US, but rather a tool to permit them to leverage their combined resources and strengths, and to mediate their differing perspectives and needs.  It will not be perfect and it will only be as strong as the time, talents, and resources the members commit to it.  But with growing experience on how to use it, it can become the avenue for all the programs across the country to own and shape their collective vision and voice….and through this, create the whole that is greater than the sum of the parts.

In Chicago we played and struggled and we became even more convinced that this path was possible.  Please engage in making the effort stronger.  Every idea is needed and appreciated.


Beth Babcock (
Volunteer Facilitator

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Collective Impact from the Stanford Social Innovation Journal

This article argues that we are stuck in what the authors call an isolated impact approach to change, in which individual organizations are funded to solve single problems. The authors propose the choice of a collective impact approach, with diverse stakeholders working towards common goals for social change. While I think we need to build our own house before taking on the entire neighborhood, it makes sense for us to start thinking about how we can move toward working together with many partners (other non-profits, funders, businesses, government agencies, etc.) to transform the social realities of the country.

Submitted by Louise Lanzilotti
CEO/Artistic Director Kalikolehua – El Sistema Hawai‘i
Collective Impact

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Website Name Change

Dear Friends,

As you will notice, the website name has been changed FROM “Developing a Professional Association of Music Training Programs for High-Risk Youth” TO “El Sistema USA Professional Association” to reflect the will of the Working Group to shift our focus on an El Sistema-inspired focus.

As always, we welcome feedback to this change, which can be done below.

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March 4 Message

Dear Friends,
Thank you all for your participating and support to date. We’ve come a long way and I encourage you all to continue to participate in our surveys and weekly conference calls. All of the results for our calls, surveys, and e-mails are displayed on the temporary associationwebsite:
Our next survey will begin exploring how the group wishes to assign membership benefits. What this does is let us get at the concrete ways folks want to allow different members to participate in the work and benefits of the association. This in turn may allow for some grouping of membership categories that eases the way we think about and manage the work of the Association….example: if everyone agrees that core members get one set of benefits and everybody else gets a different set of the same/more limited benefits, then de facto, you end up with only two categories of members- core and auxiliary. Often, Associations like ours have three categories: core, eligible individuals, and eligible groups.
PLEASE NOTE: This survey is merely a prelude to more intense questioning about the group’s preference for board size, representation, and the exact ways that board members are elected. The matrix that we want you to complete will provide an understanding of group preferences on rights/privileges of membership and beginning of preference on board constitution/selection.
CORPORATE LAWYER: We are soon going to need the volunteer resources of a corporate lawyer. If you have one you want to suggest who would volunteer their resources, please let Beth or I know. Ideally, the lawyer would be available by phone, e-mail, or in person during the Drafting Convention in Chicago (if possible). It is important to get someone identified soon because we will have need for advice with the next couple of weeks on a few things we’ll be tackling at the Drafting Convention and filing the incorporation papers. Any leads are appreciated!
Our next conference call will be Wednesday March 7 from 11:30am-1:00pm EST
Conference Dial-in Number: (760) 569-0111
Participant Access Code: 121767#
Stanford Thompson and Beth Babcock
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February 26 Message

Dear Friends,

Minutes from our eighth conference call last Wednesday February 22nd are available to be read online on our association website. Just as a reminder, all minutes will get posted within 24 hours of the phone call, so please check the website for all of the latest e-mails, survey results, and minutes from these conversations. The website is very user-friendly for you to find the information you want and make comments.

In preparation for our call this Wednesday February 29th from 11:30am-1pm EST, we have developed another survey for you to complete: – Do not feel overwhelmed with the text on the page. Response time is about 4 minutes and the additional text provides clarification for the questions. It is very important for you to take the time to complete this survey so your voice is heard! Even if you can’t participate on the conference call, your responses help guide the formation of the association. Responses are needed by 6pm EST on Tuesday February 28th and the survey results will be posted before the conference call begins.

Conference Dial-in Number: (760) 569-0111
Participant Access Code: 121767#

Volunteers Needed

Three individuals have agreed to start working on mission statements and additional volunteers are needed to help. If you are interested, please reply directly to me and I’ll pass the word along. Also, if you have any ideas/resources to help Bob Fiedler (People’s Music School – Chicago, IL) in preparation for the Drafting Convention (Time TBD), please e-mail him directly at

If you have any questions, comments, or concerns, please feel free to e-mail Beth or I directly.

Stanford Thompson and Beth Babcock

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February 18 Message

Dear Friends,

In preparation for our next conference call on Wednesday February 22, 2012, we have developed a 6 minute response survey which needs to be completed by 9PM EST on Tuesday February 21st. Please complete the survey so that your voice can be heard:

Wednesday February 22, 2012 – 11:30am-1pm EST
Conference Dial-in Number: (760) 569-0111
Participant Access Code: 121767#

Review of Association Working Group Decisions to Date – 2/18/12
As noted in the Working Group Meeting minutes of 1/31/12 and 2/1/12 (at the Take A Stand Symposium in LA and found on the Working Group website, much has been accomplished by the group in its seven prior meetings and conference calls. Working Group members voted to move ahead with next steps in developing an Association and validated the process used to date. Specifically, Working Group (WG) members voted to hold a convention to draft by-laws for the Association in late April or early May, 2012. Prior to this face-to-face gathering, teleconferences will be held to refine the guiding principles to be used in the drafting process. In addition to these preparatory meetings, WG members will be routinely surveyed, so that they may make their opinions and ideas heard, regardless of whether their schedules permit teleconference participation.

Every effort will be made to engage the entire field of El Sistema inspired organizations for their help in shaping the new Association. All meeting minutes, survey summaries, and other commentary will continue to be found on the Association website and the shape and direction of the new Association will be governed by the will of the group. Whenever possible, the will of the group will be defined as having been clearly expressed when surveys and/or discussions show a three-quarters supermajority or higher in level of agreement.

Core Membership
From the previous surveys and meetings, it is clear that the group has decided that the new Association should have a core membership comprised of organizations which:

  • Have missions to create social change through music;
  • Are inspired by or built upon the values of El Sistema;
  • Focus primarily on serving children with access barriers (both financial and social) to other music programs;
  • Provide such programs in a manner that ensures equal access to all children regardless of ability to pay;
  • Provide rigorous high-quality programs as measured by a minimum number of instruction hours per week (current discussion is five hours, but TBD);
  • Emphasize ensemble performance as a core of curriculum.

As noted above, the average minimum hours of instruction for organization membership still needs to be finalized.  In addition, the use of peer instruction as an defining element for core membership also needs to be explored,  Both these elements will be examined in this week’s survey.

Additional Membership Categories
As core membership is close to being defined, the Working Group has begun to discuss other possible categories of membership within the Association.  Additional potential categories of membership that have already been mentioned by WG members include interested:  individual members including supporters, professionals in the field, and/or students; university and/or training programs for academic institutions training professionals in the field;youth and/or adult orchestras; foundations and/or other sponsorship organizations; community partners such as schools and community or government agencies; similar and/or new programs that don’t quite fit core membership criteria.  

Most associations have additional categories of membership in addition to core membership.  The purpose of such expanded membership is to create effective means of collaboration between relevant groups in promoting the Association’s mission.  Each category of auxiliary membership, once specified is accorded benefits of membership specific to the group.  So, for example, students or other individual members might be given the benefit of receiving all Association newsletters and attending Association conferences, but might not be given any rights to elect board members to the Association Board.  Whereas other categories of membership might not only be given rights to elect board members, but also to have a seat(s) on the Board itself.

Since characteristics of core membership are close to being defined, the Working Group will now move on to introduce and define other additional categories of membership.

Association Name
There was much discussion on 1/31 and 2/1 about the possible name for the Association. The highest agreement to date (2/3 agreement), both in surveys and meetings, appears to concentrate around the names El Sistema USA or Sistema USA. During the most recent meetings in LA, Mark Churchill, the current head of El Sistema USA has stated that should the Association move ahead to legally incorporate with the principles outlined to date, he would be willing to transfer the El Sistema USA name to the Association. Given this support, previously suggested names, including El Sistema USA, will begin to be tested with the WG in future surveys. 

Association Mission
In the last survey and subsequent discussions, WG members suggested possible formative elements of the Association Mission Statement.  To date, WG members have suggested that the mission statement should reflect some or all of the following purposes:

  • Creating social change through music
  • Reflecting the values and/or inspiration of El Sistema
  • Serving all children regardless of need
  • Promoting high quality rigorous instruction
  • Through ensemble-based programs

Given these elements, in the next teleconference, WG members will be asked to volunteer for a small subcommittee (5-8 members) which will draft one or more sample mission statements for proposal to the larger group.

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