Forward Duo Visits El Sistema

By Nick Gallo | Thunder Basketball Writer | mailbag@okcthunder.com

The two quick staccato beats of the conga drum lingered in the air for half a second, then laughter erupted from the orchestra chamber at El Sistema Oklahoma. A moment later, Thunder forward Kyle Singler shared a sheepish grin from the back of the room with fellow forward Josh Huestis, who was front and center, conducting the group of 140 Oklahoma youths.

On Wednesday, the Thunder duo dropped by El Sistema, a non-profit, after-school program. While there, they encouraged the children to continue working hard to learn the instruments they recently picked up. All 220 children that attend El Sistema are Oklahoma City Public School students, many of whom wouldn’t have the opportunity to own an instrument.

El Sistema is a program that delivers music instruction from teachers five days a week during the school year, taking kids who are looking to succeed find a path. For many students, it is an otherwise unobtainable opportunity to excel through honing a craft and taking pride in a skill.

“It was wonderful to have this gift from the Oklahoma City Thunder to come and visit us, and particularly Kyle and Josh,” Executive Director of El Sistema Robyn Hilger said. “A lot of times people think that there is a separation between athletics and the arts. Really, there’s not.”

“What you’re talking about are people who are passionate about what they do,” Hilger continued. “They have to work hard at it. It’s something that takes a lot of time, effort and energy and it requires them to play well on a team.”

The aforementioned laughter ensued at the end of the orchestra’s rendition of Pharrell’s song, “Happy”, which featured Huestis at the front of the room as the conductor and Singler in the percussion section. While blissfully slapping the drums in rhythm thanks to a helpful student, Singler’s enthusiasm led him to hit two more notes a split second after the rest of the orchestra had finished the song in unison.

It was a perfect, unscripted moment that brought joy to the room, and it also gave Singler an extra appreciation for how difficult it is to master a musical instrument.

“When I was leaving the room, I said to myself, ‘there’s no way I have a career in this,’ Singler joked. “To connect with some kids and be present with them was cool. What they’re doing here is pretty awesome.”

“I was really impressed with what they’re doing, knowing that they’ve only been playing for a couple months,” Singler continued. “I’m not musically inclined to understand pace or anything like that, but you can definitely tell that they’re learning and doing something that is fun.”

Huestis took part in band during his childhood and Singler took a drumming class at Duke University, but both were blown away by the dedication and skill of the El Sistema students. After a long day at school, the children at El Sistema are once again asked to devote their attention and energy to complex and abstract concepts while also performing the fine motor skills necessary to make the music.

Having Huestis and Singler on hand in an environment that wasn’t related to basketball was a unique opportunity to show children that no matter what they want to pursue or where their skills lay, the Thunder is there to support them.

“For them to come and say, ‘I’m proud of you for learning an instrument and being in an orchestra’ can really help propel them forward,” Hilger said.

“It’s one of the reasons I play basketball and I’m blessed to be in the position I’m in is that I have an effect on kids,” Huestis said. “If I can go home and feel like I’ve made a difference in one kid’s day, I feel like it’s worth it.”

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To learn more about El Sistema, visit their website.

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