I have been deeply blessed with two of life’s greatest joys: traveling and the sharing of music. The adventuring to unexplored places, encountering culture, meeting people, exchanging stories, sharing meals and passing time together: the humble gift of being human. My trip to Venezuela has not been one of earth-shattering, seismic revolutionary revelations but surprisingly on the contrary, a quiet yet powerful reminder of the human spirit in its purist and most magnanimous expression.
Eating, drinking, breathing, sleeping, living El Sistema for a month reminded me what we are all capable of as human beings: kindness, generosity, sincerity, tenacity and unity. The kind of realization that mirrors the depths of our own souls the goodness we already possess, just like the sense of assurance and confidence our homes impart. El Sistema is no magic: it is the manifestation of what happens when good-hearted people do what they love for the sake of others, day in and day out for 38 years in the face of all obstacles.
Maestro Abreu has been quoted to say that culture for the poor must never be poor culture. How can a nation lacking in toilet paper and ransacked with blatant bad politics be able to make such beautiful music? Dare I say the deprivation of basic human rights has lead to the proliferation of possibly the noblest right of all, the right to and of making music?
The nature of music in its purest essence is all encompassing, be it the notes, range, dynamics, tempos, etc. The same notion is reflected in the sensitive machinery of El Sistema: spaces and platforms are created for the physically and mentally challenged children so that they too, without exception, are able to experience the holistic value of communal music making. This made me question how the label of ‘inclusion’ is created: why were they excluded in the first place?
Somehow El Sistema has defied nature’s theory of ‘survival of the fittest’; not in the sense of the soloist or the last man standing, but strongest is he who gains strength from the simultaneity of supporting and being supported by others.
The orchestra, each orchestra I experienced and was so moved by in Venezuela, was the heart of that community. There was a sense of pride, of belonging, of fun, of family in each room. Being a part of the orchestra was as normal as it was to progress with each other.
No words can adequately describe the passion of each child, the commitment to their growth, development and potential. What we inherently hold near and dear to our hearts: the most precious and prized values of joy, sense of community, of courage and of hope, was shared with open arms and the embrace of welcome, of coming home.
Sistema Fellow '14