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.”
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.