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King Hosts Ninth El Sistema Residency, Welcoming Musicians From Across the Northeast

Watch the 2024 El Sistema Community Concert on YouTube here.


Last weekend, King School’s Performing Arts Center reverberated with passion as 160 students, 20 professional musicians, and numerous dedicated parent volunteers convened for the ninth annual El Sistema residency. The beloved event was a testament to King’s commitment to music and its ability to foster connections between communities of different socioeconomic backgrounds, give voice to diverse cultural identities, and amplify lived experiences.

“It didn't really matter that we didn't know each other because we all knew music,” shared first-time participant Nicholas Marti ’27. “We all could just start playing, and we were quickly able to come up with some amazing things together solely through our instruments and imagination.”

From Saturday, April 6, to Sunday, April 7, students and educators from King’s Middle and Upper Schools collaborated with students and educators from Project Music, Baltimore Symphony Orcestra’s OrchKids, the Boston Music Project, Peabody Institute’s Tuned-In program, Paterson Music Project, and RocMusic, crafting a performance featuring established musical selections as well as new music composed during the residency.

“This was my sixth year at El Sistema, and it was as amazing as ever,” said Spencer Nackritz '24. “It’s really enjoyable to participate with people who want to make music as much as I do.”

Garrett Directing

Organized by King School Director of Performing Arts Garrett Mendez, this year’s residency also welcomed Archipelago Project and Collective Conservatory Director Dan Trahey, La Sierra University Director of Bands and Associate Professor of Music Giovanni Santos, and Academy of Noise Co-Founder and Head Instructor Kaila Mullady.

Throughout the weekend, the guest artists helped hone the performers’ skills through numerous rehearsals and workshops.

Santos directed ensembles through his original compositions, “El Zape” and “Mayaguez.”

“He originally was just going to do a Zoom session with the students,” recalled Mendez.
“About a month ago, he said, ‘Here is a crazy idea, why don't I just  come?’ so we made it happen.”

Trahey and Mullady focused on Collective Composition, a collaborative music-making process that allows people to creatively explore and express their stories, ideas, and emotions through music.

“What I love most about the residency is that it validates music as one of the ultimate agents for social development and keenly showcases its ability to unite communities through harmony and mutual compassion,” shared Trahey.

The end result of the Collective Composition work was a 25-minute, three-movement piece titled “Colors of an Artist,” based on a poem by the late Adam Boaz.


Culminating the weekend residency were three performances to packed audiences. The first performance welcoming friends, families, and the public on Sunday, April 7, was followed by two in-school performances for King’s lower, middle, and upper school students on Monday, April 8.

“Working in such a big group is awesome because there's such a diversity of instruments, and working with musicians from other programs means that creatively, they have different perspectives,” said Max Wachter ’24. “Playing a song like La Murga de Panama with 130 musicians on stage is a really cool experience.”

Reflecting on the near decade of growth, Mendez shared the program’s impressive evolution.

“When we first started, there were about 10 King middle school students, eight students from the Baltimore Symphony OrchKids program, and about four or five Project Music students. The program has grown to involve over 125 visiting students and 20 faculty from El Sistema-inspired programs across the Northeast, and all of King’s Upper School Band and Middle School Advanced Band students,” he said.

“Over nine years, the mission of connecting communities through music became clear through the process of collective composition and the focus on student voice and agency.”