What is Soundscapes?

Soundscapes is a nonprofit, educational, intervention organization that instills transformative life skills in underserved children in our community, using intensive music study and frequent ensemble performances.

The El Sistema philosophy originated in South America over forty years ago and is now in practice around the globe. More than 65 nations use the paradigm to address critical social issues that affect the health, safety, and spirit of their citizens. In most countries, it is used to give at-risk young people the prosocial skills they need to function in mainstream society and become model citizens.

Performance music is a mechanism of change, with intrinsic benefits that help reduce aggressive urges in at-risk children, improve academic performance and instill the social skills that are needed for future success in the workplace.

Why is Soundscapes important?

Ensemble music training and performance is a particularly effective way to achieve these goals. Most notably, learning music has shown to:

  • Strengthen executive brain function and reduce violent behavior.
  • Enhance social capital and enable positive social relationships.
  • Teach and promote civic engagement and strengthen communities.
  • Improve academic performance.
  • Provide early intervention, yielding the strongest results.

How does Soundscapes work?

Currently, elementary school children between the ages of 6 and 15 in the model Newport News programs at Carver Elementary receive between 128 and 320 hours of training per year. Instruction embodies general and instrumental music lessons, life skills training, and choral and instrument ensemble performance. Classes and most performances take place in the depressed neighborhoods where the children live. Using a faculty of professional teaching artists, assisted by behavioral specialists, interns, and music mentors, Soundscapes creates a safe, nurturing, alternate model society where students learn the positive skills that will enable them to move into mainstream society: They

  • Participate in self-esteem building and other types of group social interactions.
  • Enhance their audio skills through choral study and performance.
  • Become proficient in music theory, reading music and composing lyrics.
  • Study an instrument track and then select a preferred instrument for mastery.
  • “Earn” the right to take home their instrument for practice, mid-Level 2.
  • Receive leadership training and continue to refine these skills.
  • By second grade, are actively performing in instrumental ensembles in addition to chorus.

Soundscapes plans to extend its programs to embrace students through high school graduation, with a focus on technical music proficiency, more frequent orchestral performance and additional leadership training. Soundscapes works in partnership with the Newport News Public School system. Carver Elementary is a Title I school, with a poverty and minority demographic of more than 80%. The program began in October of 2009 with 40 first grade students and currently serves 250 children ages 6-13 who participate in afternoon classes during the school term and four weeks during the summer.

What is the program like at Soundscapes?

FUNdamentals: Musical Preparation
  • Open to 25 first grade students
  • Those selected have priority when applying for Level 1 the following year.
  • Students receive general music instruction that focuses on tonal and rhythmic development in vocal and bucket band classes.
  • Classes take place on Wednesdays.
  • Students move into regular Level 2 classes as vacancies arise.
Level 1: Musical Readiness
  • Second and third grade students are eligible.
  • Students receive general music instruction that focuses on tonal and rhythmic development in vocal and bucket band classes
  • During the second semester, students explore three orchestral instrument tracks: wind instruments – recorder; strings (paper violin); and percussion (tonal/non-tonal instruments)
Level 2: Instrument Readiness
  • Third, and fourth graders are eligible.
  • Students select an orchestral instrument to play within their instrument path. (See table below)
  • Students sing in the Soundscapes Children’s Choir (made up of Level 2 and 3 students)
Woodwind & Brass Instruments Stringed Instruments Percussion Instruments
Flute Violin Snare
Clarinet Viola Xylophone & Glockenspiel
Trumpet Cello Bass Drum
Trombone Timpani
Level 3: Orchestral Ensemble Readiness
  • Students in fourth and fifth grades are eligible.
  • Students perform in the Soundscapes Elementary Orchestra.
  • Students perform in the Soundscapes Children’s Choir (made up of Level 2 and 3 students)
  • Students train younger students
Level 4: Upper School Academy
  • Students audition for positions in the Peninsula Youth Orchestra.
  • Soundscapes provides instruments and pays tuition for their students in the PYO.
  • Students perform concerts as scheduled by the PYO.
  • Students receive instrument-specific private and small group instruction.
  • Students can attend Soundscapes classes at Carver as mentors and teaching assistants.
  • Participation in regular Middle School ensembles is a prerequisite for enrollment.
  • Summer Programs

    SPARK (Summer Program for Arts, Recreation and Knowledge)

    The 2017 fiscal year began in July with Soundscapes working in partnership with the Newport News Public Schools in NNPS’ second Summer Program for Arts, Recreation and Knowledge (SPARK) at Huntington Middle School and three Title I elementary schools. Soundscapes classes met four afternoons per week for five weeks and provided 60 hours of instruction to 220 students.

    Soundscapes benefits from its association with teachers from other schools in the Newport News School system.