Wednesday August 3, 2011

PITTSFIELD -- Berkshire Children and Families Inc. is supporting a new effort to improve children's lives through music.

This year, the family services agency has elected to pilot a program called El Sistema in Pittsfield's Conte and Morningside community schools.

To lead the way, Marie Montilla has been named as the director of the program.

Inspired by the El Sistema model of music and social justice created in Venezuela and now in place throughout the world, the program will provide free after-school orchestra music education to children attending the schools, beginning in January.

"We've been looking for opportunities to partner with our communities, with our schools, and our other nonprofit partners in the Berkshires and Pioneer Valley," said Kelley DeLorenzo, Berkshire Children and Families' assistant director for community-based programs.

"This model has been tested and replicated around the world. It offers and environment where every child is seen as an asset and every child is seen as a value in an ensemble," she said.

The El Sistema method was developed 33 years ago in a parking garage in Caracas, Venezuela when Dr. José Antonio Abreu gathered together 11 poor children to play music.

Among its graduates, El Sistema Venezuela has nurtured international musicians such as Edicson Ruiz and Gustavo Dudamel and the world-renowned Simón Bolívar Youth Orchestra.

According to Berkshire Children and Families, director Montilla brings extensive music, education and El Sistema experience to her new role. She is a 2011 graduate of the Abreu Fellows Program at the New England Conservatory in Boston, which prepares classically trained musicians to establish community-based El Sistema programs.

Montilla also has a Bachelor of Music degree in violin performance from the University of Louisville, and a Master of Music degree from Simon Bolivar University in Caracas. She also completed post-baccalaureate studies in linguistics and music at Indiana University, and additional post-baccalaureate studies in early childhood education at Arizona State University.

Marie, her husband and daughter will reside in Pittsfield.