Rebecca Levi was born and raised in New York City. She studied classical music from an early age, playing piano and flute at the Mannes and Manhattan School of Music Preparatory Divisions. She then attended Yale University, where she played piano for musical theater productions and sang in the folk music group Tangled Up In Blue.
In 2007, she graduated with a B.A. in Italian and English Literature. Since then, she has been living in Urubamba, Peru, working in a home for abused children and teaching music and English classes.
A Talk with Rebecca Levi
How did you hear about the Abreu Fellows program?
I read about it in the “Friends of El Sistema” Facebook group!
Why did you apply?
I left Peru looking for an opportunity to continue my music teaching and social activism, and this program seemed the perfect fit, as it takes both of these things very seriously.
What tools will you develop during this fellowship and how do you think these tools will be useful in your future post?
I love working with and learning from children, but I am very excited to learn from other adults too. I believe that the collaboration between the Fellows, our teachers, and the people we meet in Venezuela and on our internships will be invaluable, both to us and to El Sistema USA.
Where do you see yourself in five years? What will you be doing and why?
In five years, I hope to be teaching music, collaborating with other musicians, leading reach-out programs for underprivileged children, and traveling to keep expanding my own musical knowledge.
Why do you think that music education is important to a child’s development?
In my time in Peru, I have seen music draw timid children out of their shells, give students the motivation and the skills to study better, and provide poor kids with a window to the outside world. Music is essential; it is work, art, recreation and therapy.
Regarding the present state of music education for children in the U.S., what has been done right and where do you see room for improvement?
The US suffers from vast differences in income, so its private schools soar while its public ones lack funds and teachers. In an economic crisis, many in public education view the arts as expendable. One answer is to collaborate with the schools through programs like the NY Philharmonic Teaching Artists. We need more programs, more action and more collaboration to give kids in the U.S. the continuity of El Sistema.
How did you learn about El Sistema?
I learned about El Sistema through TED! A friend sent me Maestro Abreu’s TED Prize speech via e-mail, and I was converted.
Why do you think El Sistema is unique? What elements made the El Sistema program successful where others were not?
El Sistema values music for music’s sake but also puts it to social use; a true, successful commitment to both classical music and social justice is very rare. El Sistema has been able to do this for so long because it reaches out to and involves the greater community. Meanwhile, its own “family” helps itself, as its students become its teachers.
Have you worked with or mentored children in the past?
From 2007 until 2009, I lived and worked full-time in a home for abused children (ages 5–18) in Urubamba, Peru. I ran all daily activities and created a music workshop in which, as a final project, the kids wrote and performed their own song. I also taught English workshops and was the English teacher in a local public elementary school.