ECoSistema celebrates 10 years of accessible music education for Elkhart County youth

The ECoSistema Seminario summer music camp at Goshen College culminated in a free concert for the community on June 7, 2024, on the Music Center’s Sauder Concert Hall stage. The annual ECoSistema Seminario brings together students from three different ECoSistema program sites across Elkhart County for music-making and community-building on the GC campus. The concert showcased musical offerings from the Boys & Girls Club of Goshen, Roosevelt STEAM Academy and the Tolson Youth Choir.

This year marks a significant milestone for ECoSistema, an innovative music and youth development program based within Goshen College’s Community School of the Arts (CSA) that has been transforming lives in Elkhart County for a decade. Rooted in the global El Sistema movement that began in Venezuela, ECoSistema has successfully built on the long tradition of musical excellence in Elkhart County. “ECoSistema” stands for “Elkhart County El Sistema,” and represents the local chapter of a global movement.

Kent Dutchersmith (lead teaching artist; left), Sofia Sanchez (strings teaching artist and 2024 Goshen College graduate; middle) and Hillary Harder (ECoSistema program director; right)

ECoSistema is dedicated to providing free music education opportunities to all youth in the community. Over the past 10 years, the program has impacted the lives of tens of thousands of young people across northern Indiana, fostering a sense of belonging and empowerment through music.

“In January of 2015, after organizing and brainstorming, we held the first official El Sistema event at Goshen College to share with area music educators about the power of music for positive change,” said Marcia Yost, director of engagement and outreach for the arts at Goshen College. “Now, almost a decade later, the program is thriving with six teachers, numerous interns and a degree program at GC, touching the lives of many children and families.”

Hillary Harder, a 2015 Goshen College graduate who currently serves as ECoSistema program director, initially felt a calling to support local families facing barriers in their home life or communities when she was a student at the college.

“From the beginning, ECoSistema’s goal has been to expand opportunities for more students and families who might face access barriers,” said Harder. “When I first became involved in 2014 as a Goshen College student, I was inspired by the El Sistema movement and decided to make it my life’s work by helping create ECoSistema. By 2020, we transitioned to being housed at the college, which was a perfect fit.”

ECoSistema’s success is built on the foundation of strong community partnerships. Each year, ECoSistema helps bring music education to 1,000 youth ages 0-22 through these collaborations. The Boys & Girls Club of Goshen, for instance, serves 100 students annually through programs including music and movement classes, choir and string orchestra. Support from organizations such as the Community Foundation of Elkhart County and Horizon Education Alliance has been instrumental in maintaining these programs and ensuring they remain accessible to all.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, these partnerships proved invaluable, allowing the program to continue despite instability and limited resources.

ECoSistema seeks to provide equitable access to music education for children and families in Elkhart County from birth to young adulthood.

“While other activities were paused, our music program continued, providing an essential outlet for students during a difficult time,” said Harder. “Many children discovered their love for music through this program, which became an anchor for them.”

Sofia Sanchez, a recent 2024 Goshen College graduate and strings teaching artist with the program, reflected on her journey with ECoSistema and the impact of music on the community.

“A lot of kids have different situations at home,” said Sanchez. “We have students facing issues like a parent getting arrested, being on the verge of homelessness or recently arriving from another country. For these kids to channel their experiences into our program and use music as an outlet is incredibly important in building resilience and adaptability.”

Sanchez emphasized the significance of providing access to music education for all children in Elkhart County.

“We’re committed to this community and passionate about ensuring every child has access to this program,” said Sanchez. “It’s not just about music; it’s about youth development and giving kids a sense of belonging.”

For additional information about ECoSistema and how to get involved, visit its website page here.