Our History

Our Story

Executive Director and Co-founder Anne Henry was inspired to create Soundscapes after seeing a “60 Minutes” feature on El Sistema, a youth development program built around community-based orchestras. She decided to build a similar program in Newport News to give students in the community the skills they need to succeed in school and become engaged citizens. She knew she needed someone with expertise in music education and recruited co-founder Rey Ramirez from the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. Today, Anne and Rey serve as Executive Director and Program Director respectively.

Soundscapes began in 2009 with 40 first graders playing bucket drums at Carver Elementary School. By early 2020, the program was serving more than 350 children in grades one through twelve, and had taught music to more than 1,400 students in total. The youngest students still start with buckets, while the oldest students now play in a full orchestra. Thanks to a strong partnership with Newport News Public Schools and support from the City of Newport News, Soundscapes continues to grow.

National music educator Eric Booth has described Soundscapes as “lean and mean,” and “by far the most established, prominent, respected mid-size city program in the U.S.” Soundscapes has created in Newport News a youth orchestra of the caliber one would expect to find in a larger city and created a national model for future programs established outside large urban areas. A local business leader recently described Soundscapes as “the best investment in Newport News.”

El Sistema

Soundscapes is based on El Sistema, a youth orchestra program that originated in Venezuela over forty years ago. Now found in more than 65 countries, El Sistema-inspired programs use music education and performance opportunities to give young people the skills they need to thrive and become engaged citizens. Soundscapes is the fourth-oldest organization in the United States inspired by El Sistema, the first in Virginia, and a leader among American programs.

Soundscapes is a proud founding member of El Sistema USA and several staff members have served on the ESUSA Board of Directors. This national alliance provides opportunities for members to collaborate to share resources, values, aspirations, and advocacy efforts.

Timeline

2009

The Beginning

The Beginning

In 2009, Soundscapes began operations at Carver Elementary school with 40 students.

2009

Instruments

Instruments

In December of 2009, Music & Arts donated 100 instruments to get Soundscapes started.

2011

Expansion

Expansion

In January 2011 our orchestra expanded to include woodwinds and brass in addition to strings.

2014

Rubric

Rubric

In October 2014, Soundscapes worked with renowned education assessment consultant Dr. David Dirlam to develop our 9 Dimension rubric to help us track the impact we make on students’ musical and behavioral skills.

2016

Humanitarian Award

Humanitarian Award

In February of 2016, Soundscapes co-founder and executive director Anne Henry received a Humanitarian Award from the Virginia Center for Inclusive Communities.

2016

Golf Tournament

Golf Tournament

Our first Golf tournament took place in May 2016.

2018

Music by the Pint Festival

Music by the Pint Festival

Our first Music by the Pint Festival in kicked off February 2018.

2018

Kennedy Center Performance

Kennedy Center Performance

Students from Soundscapes are invited to perform at the 2018 Kennedy Center Arts Summit.

2019

Gala

Gala

We held our first fundraising gala in September 2019 featuring bass artist and music educator Victor Wooten.

2020

A Second Location

A Second Location

We expanded our daily music program to a second location at Greenwood Elementary School in January 2020.

2020

Screenshot of virtual class

Soundscapes Virtual

Soundscapes Virtual launched in March 2020 in response to schools shutting down because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

2020

Peninsula Youth Orchestra

Peninsula Youth Orchestra

The 60-year-old Peninsula Youth Orchestra became a program of Soundscapes in July 2020.