Our first visit was to the Coro Guaritos; we saw how conducting small children when directing the choir is important as it teaches them how to interpret gestures from a young age. Also the director and her two teaching assistants made sure that the focus of the children was on the conductor as much as possible during their performance. Again it was refreshing after the showcases of the Caracas nucleos to see students in the process of learning the basics of their instruments. The woodwind group played a slow but sure version of ‘Ode to Joy’ and the recorder group’s performance of ‘Joy to the World’ ended at different times, whilst the violin sectional involved a monotonous repetition of one passage.
We spent most of our time at the beginner orchestra rehearsal. There were different ability levels and age groups in the same orchestra, which we have seen in other nucleos as well, but the kids don’t seem to mind. It struck me how the older kids are not affected at the thought of their street-cred being harmed by playing with younger kids and at the same level, and rehearsing beginner strings music that is simplistic and not always pleasant to hear! They are encountering the same challenges as the younger children and seem just as motivated to master their instrument. Perhaps they have been to concerts of other nucleo orchestras or maybe the name of El Sistema and the celebrity that Dudamel has in Venezuela (he is as well-known as the most popular baseball stars) has given them the motivation to persevere with the program.
The children are arranged according to ability which means that some of the kids get lost way at the back of the cavernous rehearsal room. We hear that in some cases in El Sistema, children are paired with someone of higher ability so they can learn from their stand partner, but we also saw a lot of the traditional arrangements with the more able at the front with better access to direction and feedback, and those struggling at the back. In addition there was a lot of poor posture going on and, in this case, there weren’t any additional teachers to the conductor who would be able to attend to this. A quick flick through the orchestra repertoire folder showed that they were currently working on simple arrangements of Venezuelan Christmas songs and ensemble arrangements of Suzuki Violin Book 1 melodies. The children were so happy to play for us and to interact with us and our not always fabulous Spanish skills! We were glad to perform a couple of songs for them and they responded with pieces they had prepared for their first concert.
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Sistema Fellow '14