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 improve impulse control 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, school children between the ages of 6 and 16 in the model Newport News programs 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 disadvantaged 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 auditory discretion skills through aural skill study and performance.
  • Become proficient in music theory, reading music and composing lyrics.
  • Select a preferred instrument for mastery.
  • Earn the right to take home their instrument for practice, Level 2.
  • Receive leadership training and continue to refine these skills.
  • By third 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 Schools system.

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.
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 (violin); and percussion (buckets and auxillary 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 who have completed Level 2 are eligible.
  • Students perform in the Soundscapes Elementary Orchestra and either String Orchestra or Wind Band.
  • Students perform in the Soundscapes Children’s Choir (made up of Level 2 and 3 students)
  • Students mentor 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 and concerts at Carver as mentors.
  • Participation in regular Middle School ensembles is a prerequisite for enrollment.

Summer Programs

SPARK (Summer Program for Arts, Recreation and Knowledge)

The 2019 fiscal year began in July with Soundscapes working in partnership with the Newport News Public Schools in NNPS’ third Summer Program for Arts, Recreation and Knowledge (SPARK) at three Title I elementary schools. Soundscapes classes met four afternoons per week for four weeks and provided 48 hours of instruction to 150 students.

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