Aubree, a fellow Fellow of this year’s class, hypothesized back in September that Venezuelans held a special “generosity” that characterized their success with El Sistema. Aubree could not have been more correct.
What I have experienced over the last three weeks, what has enchanted me most about my experience here in Venezuela, is not the mountains, or the amount of young children able to play extremely challenging music, or the special needs program and what it offers, or the food. And, mind you, all of these things are exceedingly enchanting. What has truly captured my heart in every corner of this country, from the hotel elevator at the Tamanaco Hotel to the conservatory in Barquisimeto to the núcleos with broken windows and no water is la gente venezolana, the Venezuelan people themselves.
Though I haven’t traveled much in my life, I’ve at least traveled enough (mostly just the eastern part of the United States) to have met a lot of different kinds of people. And in the Midwest, where I’m from, people are generally considered to be friendly, nice people, which I have mostly found to be a true generalization, racial issues notwithstanding. But nowhere I have been in my limited travels was I greeted with so much generosity, and moreover, genuine love. Now, I must say that my opinion is slightly skewed, because most Venezuelan people I have met are associated with El Sistema, and the núcleos are special slices of heaven within this tumultuous country. And that can be understood, considering the frustration and restlessness of the general population of the country because of recent (and maybe not so recent) political and economical climates. But I have experienced this same genuine openness from people unassociated with El Sistema, so I am inclined to believe that it is a cultural norm unparalleled in the communities I have visited in the States.
I don’t think I’ve ever cried so much in the space of three weeks in my entire life. Not only have I had the opportunity to discover some things about myself, which I have written about previously, but I have constantly been met with overwhelmingly moving ideology, policy, generosity and curiosity. I have met students with an unquenchable thirst, insatiable hunger, remarkable passion for learning; I have come into contact with tireless teachers and núcleo directors who have made it their mission, in the strongest sense of the word, to share their love of music with as many youth as possible, in order to better their lives. They are not just violin teachers or conductors, they are friends, parents, counselors, caregivers, healers. This shouldn’t be a surprise; after all, I’ve felt the same way of many of my music teachers, and that is how we as artists often acquit ourselves with our students. But there is often a line that is understood not to be crossed, or blurred, between the personal life of that teacher and his or her student. The difference here is that there is no line because the teachers here give their whole lives to this mission. It consumes them, literally 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. They give themselves wholly to this art, in making music, teaching music, and changing lives through music.
We as a fellowship have spoken at length about the difference between “replicating” El Sistema, which we have all agreed is impossible, and “adapting” El Sistema to the environments in which we hope to work. For me, though I find it somewhat unrealistic that we in the United States can adopt such a tireless and selfless attitude, I am in turn energized and inspired by the opportunity to make it happen.
Continue reading on my personal blog.
Sistema Fellow '14