By Katelyn Skye Bennett
It’s 6:30 p.m. and the students are streaming in, most children grabbing snacks before setting up their stands and tuning their wind and string instruments. At Chicago Arts and Music Project (CAMP) in East Garfield Park, founder Lindsay Fredrickson teaches these kids music for free through her orchestra program.
CAMP is part of the El Sistema movement, initially begun in the 1970s by a
native Venezuelan musician upset that foreign musicians were taking professional Venezuelan jobs. José Antonio Abreu started performing with other native professionals in a parking garage and began taking in less skilled local musicians to train them through peer teaching and “togetherness.” El Sistema spread across South America and then up north, even into Chicago, where orchestra programs like CAMP utilize its structure today.
“East Garfield Park is struggling in a lot of ways, mostly with poverty and racial dynamics, and music is a way to really help build skills necessary for young people to succeed in life,” Fredrickson shared.
Thus, at a convergence in her life, she put her two music degrees and love for teaching kids together, began a wildly-successful instrument drive, and began her nonprofit in 2017. She feels “lucky to have so many people on board” and is glad that Chicago has an excellent pool of musicians of color.
Chicago Arts and Music Project holds four values: Firstly, musical excellence. A close second is social change, including community engagement with the students’ families and others. CAMP also prioritizes social activism and diversity in all things, from genre to composers to the Board.
“Activism is the big thing, teaching them that they don’t need me to go make a difference or they don’t need an adult to go do something,” Fredrickson noted. She and her staff value the students and encourage their creativity in musical expression as well as their ideas for how to use music to create change in their communities.
In class, the kids came up with a story, which was put to their own compositions and shared as a musical at Schwab Rehab Hospital, Richard Daley Public Library, the Austin Family Community Center, and for the early childhood program at Breakthrough, which is the building in which they meet. The students each have individual goals in addition to the ways they are being changed and spreading change through the program.
This 2018-19 school year was its first year running, and Fredrickson has already seen results. One student’s initial behavior almost caused her to kick him out, but over time his screams turned to sweetness, and he delighted in the orchestra program. She has seen parents become more engaged as they see the ways CAMP takes effort to benefit the children, and of course, she has noticed marked musical growth.
Fredrickson attributes the musical growth to the required individual lessons. While the sectionals meet together on weekdays, the students also meet one-on-one with music teachers over the weekend. Most of the students did not have any background in music prior to this program. These individual lessons set CAMP apart from other orchestra programs and enable the students to grow at a faster level than those without the specialized attention.
This year, the 18 students were primarily creative fourth and fifth graders, but Fredrickson expects the program to double or triple in size next year and hopes to expand the age range accepted. She especially wants to start a young string program for first and second graders, and has a vision to develop specialized tracks in other instruments and perhaps production in the next 10-20 years. She also wants to further ways for parents to be involved with their children.
Click on a photo to hear from a string student!
Photos by Katelyn Skye Bennett