Austin Soundwaves Concludes Its First Summer Program

Austin Soundwaves has recently concluded its first summer program at East Austin College Prep. For three weeks in June, enrolled fifth through ninth grade students spent their afternoons learning to play as part of a full orchestra. The program finished off a successful summer of music on Friday, June 29th, with a concert performance for a full house of parents, teachers, and community members.

Based on Venezuela’s rigorous El Sistema model of music education, the Austin Soundwaves Orchestra has been a part of East Austin College Prep’s fine arts curriculum for the past year. The program is a branch of the Hispanic Alliance for the Performing Arts, a nonprofit whose mission is to “build participation in the performing arts in Austin’s growing Hispanic community, focusing primarily on underserved youth and their families.”

The summer program featured daily instruction for three hours in the afternoon, with lessons for each instrument. Returning orchestra members who participated in Austin Soundwaves during the school year at EAPrep spent their days honing their performance skills and improving their ability to read music, while the young first-timers of the program surveyed each instrument before choosing one to focus on in the final week of the program.

Soundwaves Program Director Patrick Slevin teaches one summer percussion student the finer points of the marimba.

Austin Soundwaves features a full orchestra of winds, strings, and percussion, led by 24-year-old program director Patrick Slevin. A percussionist by training, Slevin got his BFA at Northwestern University before completing the Sistema Fellows Program at the New England Conservatory. Having been exposed to a variety of El Sistema programs across the U.S. and Venezuela as part of his fellowship, Slevin is well-versed in the program’s benefits and is exceptionally suited to lead the Austin Soundwaves orchestra at EAPrep.

With managing the fifty or so students enrolled in the summer program, conducting the orchestra, teaching lessons, and preparing for a small recital every Friday in addition to the culminating performance at the end, Slevin had his hands full. Among the most memorable moments of the summer were performances for senior citizens at the RBJ Center, and of course the final concert, which featured six pieces for full orchestra and smaller instrumental ensembles, including one challenging pizzicato-style piece requiring the returning string players to perform without the use of bows. Slevin also appreciated the opportunity to bring in guest musicians from all over the country to offer their experience and expertise to the program.

What Slevin found most rewarding, however, was seeing the students grow and mature as musicians over the course of the three-week program, whether they were just beginning their foray into orchestral music or were newly-minted veterans of the Austin Soundwaves orchestra at EAPrep. “Some students really made a huge effort to be here and improve their skills,” Slevin said. “They’re getting so much better, even in this short time period, and this core group of students is really the foundation upon which the program will grow and thrive in the fall at EAPrep.”

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