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Pedagogical and Organizational Strategies for Continuing Engagement of Older Advanced Students: The Case of NEOJIBA
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Pedagogical and Organizational Strategies for Continuing Engagement of Older Advanced Students: The Case of NEOJIBA

Authors: Mariana Pinto (Portgual), Catalina Rodriguez Grisales (Colombia)


NEOJIBA (Núcleos Estaduais de Orquestras Juvenis e Infantis da Bahia or State Countries of Youth and Children’s Orchestras of Bahia) aims to promote social integration through the practice of ensemble-based music and the achievement of artistic excellence. It currently reaches 5700 children in Bahia State, Brazil, primarily through orchestras and choirs. Many advanced students leave NEOJIBA between the ages of 18 and 24. If these students continue to maintain links with the program, it could be immensely beneficial for both NEOJIBA and the participants. This case study proposes the following strategies: building partnerships with local universities, offering additional learning opportunities for individuals, fostering peer-to-peer learning as an educational tool, and providing more training to teachers.

11-25 July 2017 | SALVADOR

In July 2017 we travelled to Bahia State, Brazil, for a two-week field assignment with NEOJIBA, a governmental program inspired by the El Sistema program in Venezuela. NEOJIBA aims to promote social integration through the practice of ensemble-based music and the achievement of artistic excellence. It currently reaches 5700 children in Bahia State, primarily through orchestras and choirs.

During the first week, we led violin and strings sectionals, attended general orchestra rehearsals, and provided feedback to the conductor and the orchestra players. During the second week, we conducted interviews with academic staff and the management committee. Our sources for this case study include interviews with members of NEOJIBA’s teaching staff and management committee; three social maps (reports based on indicators related to socio-economic conditions such as skills, education, income, etc.) from 2015, 2016, and 2017, respectively, provided by the program; our observations of classes in the núcleos, or regional centers, that we visited; our conversations with students; and published articles.

Upon our arrival in Salvador, we received instructions from the management committee regarding our tasks during the field assignment. We also received information about various activities in which we could participate to better understand the NEOJIBA program. We were asked to replace some teachers that were on tour with Youth Orchestra of Bahia (YOBA) at the time and to participate in the Festival in Teixeira de Freitas organized by Instituto de Cultura, Educação e Desenvolvimento (ICED); ICED is a partner of NEOJIBA in the south of Bahia State. We had the opportunity to work closely with Orquestra Castro Alves (OCA), leading string sectionals, observing general rehearsals, and offering feedback, at the request of conductor Marcos Rangel, on ways in which the orchestra could improve.

After working with OCA students we informed the committee of our interest in offering individual tuition, but the lack of facilities in the Teatro Castro Alves did not allow for this. We also visited 3 different núcleos: CESA/ Simões Filho; SESI Itapagipe; and Federação, which houses the Orquestra Pedagógica Experimental (OPE). We stayed one additional week after the end of the field assignment in order to conduct interviews and gain a broader view of the administrative and cultural aspects of the program. It should be noted that our two-week visit occurred during an atypical period for NEOJIBA, since many teachers were away on tour with YOBA.  We were therefore only able to attend lessons given by a small percentage of the teaching staff. Our analysis and recommendations are based on our observations of these teachers’ lessons, and on the sources noted at the beginning of this section.


NEOJIBA (Núcleos Estaduais de Orquestras Juvenis e Infantis da Bahia or State Countries of Youth and Children’s Orchestras of Bahia) is an El Sistema-inspired program founded in 2007 by pianist and conductor Ricardo Castro at the request of the Secretary of Culture of the State of Bahia, Brazil. It rapidly achieved great success in its orchestral and choral projects. Its main mission is to create social integration through collective musical practice, and it has become an inspiration to other music education programs throughout the country and the world. The program is administered by a nonprofit institute, the Social Action For the Music Institute (IASPM), through a contract of management with the Government of the Bahia State. In 2009, this institute signed a management agreement with the Secretary of Culture of the State of Bahia to carry out the management of the state program. In 2014, the program passed to the Secretariat of Justice, Human Rights and Social Development of the State of Bahia.

NEOJIBA started in 2007 with 90 students selected, by audition, to become part of the program’s first youth orchestra, Orquestra Juvenil da Bahia or Youth Orchestra of Bahia (YOBA). The orchestra had its concert debut on October 20, 2007. At first, the NEOJIBA staff included members of the Orquestra Sinfónica da Bahia (OSBA) and guest teachers from abroad. During its early years, the program focused on creating a high quality orchestra in a short period of time, in order to gain visibility and develop a solid reputation that would justify state government support. “The results of the work of YOBA were so outstanding that they have set a standard for excellence that was never seen before in the State of Bahia,” stated Mr. Castro in an interview on the history of NEOJIBA. Mr. Castro explained that, when he was a child in Salvador, people had no interest in classical music and no one was playing at a high enough level to be a model for younger players. NEOJIBA has changed that reality and now many children are practicing and working to improve on their instrument so they can join an orchestra. Currently YOBA is made up of the best players from NEOJIBA and represents NEOJIBA in public presentations and on national and international tours. In July 2010, YOBA was the first youth orchestra from Brazil to perform at the Queen Elizabeth Hall in London.

In 2009 NEOJIBA created a second orchestra, Orquestra Castro Alves (OCA), under the supervision of YOBA and with instruction by YOBA members. The members of OCA come from various NEOJIBA regional centers, or Núcleos de Prática Orquestral e Coral (NPOs), and from Rede de Projetos Orquestrais (REDE), NEOJIBA’s partner programs in the interior of the Bahia state. The orchestra’s members are selected through public audition and are some of the most advanced students in NEOJIBA; as of 2017, OCA had 80 members between the ages of 12 and 22. YOBA and OCA rehearsals and activities take place in the Teatro Castro Alves in Salvador, the state capital. The NEOJIBA administrative offices are in the same building, making this theater the core of the program.

In 2011, the first núcleo outside the theater, Centro Educacional Santo Antônio (CESA), was inaugurated. By December 2017, the program served 5700 students across the Bahia State, including 1700 in Salvador. NEOJIBA currently has 12 núcleos in the Salvador metropolitan area. Some offer classes for winds and percussion, while others offer training in choir, strings, or full orchestra. One of the núcleos includes services for disabled students. Although each núcleo is free to choose the classes it offers, all follow the main objective of NEOJIBA: the promotion of social inclusion through collective musical practice. Participants vary in age from 4 to 29, depending on the núcleo or orchestra. All activities, musical instruments, learning materials, and access to transportation for concerts and presentations are free to all participants.

Since its inception, NEOJIBA has grown rapidly and created partnerships with national and international institutions, including the United Nations and The Orchestra of the Americas. In 2017, 8 students from NEOJIBA won auditions with the OSBA, demonstrating the high music quality offered by the program.

With almost 3 million people, Salvador is the capital of Bahia State and the largest city in the Northeast region of Brazil. It was the capital of colonial Brazil and the first slave port in the Americas. Due to the large number of African slaves brought by the Portuguese, the Afro-Brazilian heritage in the region is stronger than in other parts of Brazil. This influence may be found in the traditional cuisine, music, dances, and various forms of artistic expressions. The region has a very diverse population, including not only Afro-Brazilians but also people of Indigenous and European heritage. Salvador is the most important tourism center in the country, followed by Rio de Janeiro. This, in addition to the city’s numerous commercial ports (primarily for the oil and petroleum industries), has made Salvador an economically vibrant location.

Most NEOJIBA students come from situations of vulnerability, both economically and socially. Many live in the suburbs of Salvador or another city in the Bahia State. NEOJIBA has given these students an opportunity to develop their capacities, individually and socially, through collective musical practice. Through the program, students learn values such as respect, teamwork, discipline, and tolerance. These values positively affect students’ relationship with their families. Students may become role models within their families and communities. In an August 3, 2016 article in Bahia Já, a local newspaper, one mother from the São Tomé de Paripe neighborhood of Ferroviário, a suburb of Salvador, stated that “the program has offered so many things, especially with regards to the development of my children.” She said that her son is now more focused at school and that the program had encouraged her daughter to complete her studies.

NEOJIBA does not ask students to become professional musicians but rather to apply the values and skills learned throughout their lives. States Carolina Nascimento, a member of the NEOJIBA Youth Choir, in an interview posted on the program’s website, “NEOJIBA represents a big opportunity to sing, learn new things. When I began I was in the middle school. I really like to sing and to be here but my career plans are somewhat different. I want to get into the Law Faculty. I want to know the laws to be able to defend people from the injustices I see in Brazil.”

The “Mapa Social 2017—Relatório Técnico Setor Desenvolvimento Social,” NEOJIBA’s 2017 social map, was created by the technical team of the program’s Social Development Area and compiles data from 2016 and information from a total of 1542 students active in the program in the city of Salvador in that year. According to this map, 438 (29%) of the students were ages 13 to 17 and 218 (15%) were ages 18 to 24. In other words, the number of students ages 18 to 24 is approximately half that of the number of students ages 13 to 17. Note that, although we had access to social maps for three consecutive years of the program, we were not able to determine the exact number of students who had quit the program because we lacked information on the age of new students enrolling each year and the ages at which returning students had first enrolled in the program. Rather, we conducted interviews with the management committee in order to gather more information on students’ reasons for leaving the program.

We also conducted interviews and surveys with OCA members. Of a total of 39 string players, 35% were ages 10 to 14, 41% were ages 15 to 19, 21% were ages 20 to 24, and only 3% were 25 or older. All had started their musical studies in NEOJIBA. About 5% had studied their instrument for one year or less; 41% for 2–4 years; 38% for 5–7 years; 10% for 8–9 years; and only 5% for 10 years or more. Some of those 18 or older were attending university, while the younger students attended elementary school or high school.

This case study includes data from 2007 through December 2017. Due to ongoing program reforms, some figures may no longer be accurate at the time of publication.


Older students (ages 18 to 24) leave NEOJIBA for a variety of reasons. During exit interviews with the social assistant and the psychologist of the program’s Social Development Department, most participants reveal that they leave in order to accept a job or enroll in college or university. When students accept a good job or pursue a university degree, program administrators consider it an indicator of the positive social impact that the program has had in students’ lives. That some students pursue careers in music also suggests that NEOJIBA has provided them not only with a solid musical foundation but also with the motivation and confidence to become professionals. This case study focuses on older advanced students. These students are over 18, and therefore legally adults, and are pursuing a career in music.

Maintaining links with older advanced students in a music-for-social-inclusion program even after their departure can be of great benefit. Their presence enriches the program: they raise the level of the program’s orchestras, and motivate and teach younger and less experienced students. They serve as role models to other students and encourage high artistic standards. Their ability to do so differs from that of tutors and other invited teachers because of the emotional closeness they have with their peers and the use of a common language. They also have life stories in common with their peers and their testimony can be very motivating for younger students.

“Older students (ages 18 to 24) leave NEOJIBA for a variety of reasons. During exit interviews with the social assistant and the psychologist of the program’s Social Development Department, most participants reveal that they leave in order to accept a job or enroll in college or university.

Some students leave NEOJIBA when enrolling in a bachelor’s degree program due to the incompatibility of schedules. Only one university in Salvador, Universidade Federal da Bahia (UFBA), offers a Bachelor in Music Performance and orchestral experience. Although NEOJIBA has maintained good communication with UFBA over the years, their schedules are not compatible and students must leave NEOJIBA in order to enroll at the university. UFBA students thus lose the opportunity to participate in the active orchestral life and masterclasses regularly offered by NEOJIBA.

Students may pursue a licentiate degree at three universities in Salvador: UFBA, Universidade Católica do Salvador (UCSal), and Universidade do Estado da Bahia (UNEB). In collaboration with IASPM, the latter will offer students a licentiate course (from August 2018) focusing on collective music teaching practice. The practical component will be in NEOJIBA nucleos or partners. These licentiate programs focus on pedagogy and do not offer the opportunity to play in a large ensemble, however, so students may not have any opportunities to play in an orchestra.

This case study also considers pedagogical strategies currently in use at NEOJIBA. Unlike traditional music education models in Europe, most Latin American music-for-social-inclusion programs teach through orchestral practice rather than individual training.  Accordingly, NEOJIBA does not include individual lessons in its curriculum. The program has achieved high quality results in the orchestral field in a very short period of time; however, it could also foster the progress of older advanced students by offering individual lessons. This would broaden their options for higher music education studies and enable them to find better jobs in the future.


The following SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats) analysis summarizes our observations during the field assignment.


  • NEOJIBA has achieved very impressive artistic results in only 10 years and the number of students served has increased rapidly.
  •  Most current teachers started their own musical learning as students in the program. By offering jobs to former students, the program strengthens common values and encourages a collective vision and sense of mission.
  • The program is financed and supported by the government of Bahia State, giving it economic stability.


  • Students who enroll in the university tend to leave NEOJIBA because the program’s schedule is incompatible with their studies.
  • Lack of official accreditation for musical training obtained through the program. Accreditation would be useful for students applying to orchestras, jobs, or schools requiring written certificates of experience.
  • Lack of teacher training. Need for teachers to improve pedagogical skills, especially with regards to lesson planning (see below).
  • The program is highly focused on collective learning and there is a lack of individual training for advanced students.


  • The teachers and administrative team are open to change and willing to receive feedback and suggestions.
  • Agreements with the universities could allow students to continue with the program during their studies. This would add value to their artistic development and also benefit the program.


  • Shortage of rooms at the Teatro Castro Alves. On occasion, sectionals for different instruments must work together in the same room. This also leads to difficulties organizing extra activities, such as individual lessons for students. Note that NEOJIBA is currently building new program facilities.

While not the focus of this case study, lack of adequate teacher training was a notable weakness at NEOJIBA. We therefore would like to consider this issue briefly before turning to the primary focus of this case study:  maintaining links with older advanced students.

NEOJIBA teachers are required to plan their classes every three months, and group classes are based on the orchestral repertoire. Teachers are not obliged to follow a particular pedagogical method. Some teachers use preparatory exercises such as scales. The primary teaching method, however, is simply the repetition of exercises.

Planning classes on a monthly or weekly basis would add value to the teaching process and help maintain student interest and engagement. It is recommended that teachers use more exercises and approaches from the Suzuki and Colourstrings methods for string instruments. Using different exercises would both motivate students and lead to positive results in their collective playing.

NEOJIBA should also offer teacher training seminars on various aspects of pedagogy, such as group and individual teaching, repertoire for different levels, teaching instrumental technique, and class planning. These seminars could be led by visiting teachers and should be scheduled in advance. For instance, NEOJIBA might have scheduled us to lead a teaching training seminar during our field assignment.


This section describes six potential strategies for the continuing engagement of older advanced students at NEOJIBA.

1. Special status for older advanced students. We suggest that NEOJIBA offer a special status to older advanced students pursuing a career as a professional orchestra musician or as a music teacher. These students would meet with NEOJIBA administrators to determine those activities in which they might participate. For instance, university students studying to become orchestra musicians might participate in the principal concerts of the NEOJIBA season. Students studying to become music teachers could take on a supervised internship to develop their teaching skills. To offer these or other special status options, NEOJIBA must develop partnerships with local universities.

2. Stronger relationships with universities offering bachelor of music and licentiate degrees in Salvador: NEOJIBA and university administrators can work together on scheduling solutions for students, with the understanding that participating in NEOJIBA while attending university adds significant value to students’ learning.

3. Side-by-side concerts: The creation of an occasional or permanent orchestra with participants from NEOJIBA and one or more universities would allow students from both institutions to learn from each other and offer mutual support. This would also create more performing opportunities for students from both NEOJIBA and the universities.

At a time when university resources are stretched and demands upon staff are increasing, [peer learning] offers students the opportunity to learn from each other.

4. Official certificate and/or academic credit for tutoring and orchestral experience: NEOJIBA might consider offering two types of certificate: one for teaching assistantships, i.e., through regular peer-to-peer learning, and one for orchestral experience. These would be a valuable addition to students’ CVs and would help students when applying for a job or higher education studies in music pedagogy. It is also recommended that NEOJIBA offer, in collaboration with a university such as UFBA, academic credit for students’ participation in one of NEOJIBA’s advanced orchestras.

5. Peer-to-peer learning: In this scenario, the teacher organizes students in small groups and asks one of the students to instruct the others in an area in which he or she has more skills or a deeper knowledge. According to often-described principles of El Sistema, if a child is able to learn, he or she is also able to teach. Peer-to-peer learning gives students more individual attention and offers teachers a means of diversifying their pedagogical approach. This strategy is particularly useful when students are at differing technical levels, given that more advanced students may lose motivation with repeated practice of passages that they have already mastered, and that teachers may have difficulty giving enough attention to students who need more support. As Boud, Cohen, and Sampson note in Peer Learning in Higher Education: Learning From and With Each Other, “At a time when university resources are stretched and demands upon staff are increasing, [peer learning] offers students the opportunity to learn from each other.”

Older advanced students interested in developing a music teaching career could benefit from mentoring peer-to-peer group classes. If NEOJIBA forms partnerships with universities in Salvador, students may also receive academic credit for this work. Serving as mentors to younger students would offer older advanced students the opportunity to apply the knowledge and skills acquired in their higher education courses. These mentorship opportunities could take place while NEOJIBA teachers are on tour.

6. Masterclasses focused on instrumental technique: Most in-class activities are geared towards the mastery of the assigned orchestral repertoire. Teachers work on global aspects to be achieved collectively, such as rhythm and intonation, but rarely mention instrumental technique, i.e., the angle of the bow used to achieve a specific sound in a “mysterious” section of a piece, or the part of the fingertip that should touch the fingerboard. It is recommended that visiting musicians lead masterclasses with selected students of differing technical levels. The visiting teacher could then cover different technical elements for a given instrument, from the basic (i.e., how to hold a violin bow) to the more complex (i.e., how to perform in Baroque style).


The results achieved by NEOJIBA in a short period of time are impressive. After only 10 years, 5700 students have participated in the program. NEOJIBA positively affects a diverse set of stakeholders, including students’ families and communities.

This case study proposes a variety of strategies for maintaining links with older advanced students, including the creation of partnerships with universities and options for individualized study. Additional training for teachers might lead to alternative pedagogical approaches for both advanced and less advanced students.

In particular, this study recommends that NEOJIBA offer individual instruction to OCA students, either in the form of private lessons or masterclasses. However, this may not be possible until 2019, when construction is complete on the new NEOJIBA building.

Interviews with teachers and administrators revealed that NEOJIBA is a program that is quite aware of its strengths and weaknesses. It is hoped that these proposed solutions will not only help NEOJIBA continue to develop relationships with older advanced students, but will also be of use to others working in music-for-social-inclusion programs around the globe.

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