Social change through music is a lifestyle that requires total devotion. Some circles call El Sistema a religion, and I can cosign approvingly with that notion. Had it been approached as simply a side project to fill up time between gigs, it would not be what it is today. Despite how meager and thankless the early steps are, El Sistema has shown me that something this massive can only come to life if our whole heart and soul is poured into it without distractions such as self-doubt and the short-term attractiveness of taking the “easy road.” It is a life's work.
Unfortunately this is a foreign concept in the U.S., especially in the arts where struggle is virtually synonymous with weakness and failure. Before coming to Venezuela, I’d have friends fresh out of the conservatory describing to me how disappointed they were with amount of grunt work and unpaid labor this lifestyle required. It wasn’t nearly as glamorous as what they perceived initially, and at that time, I didn’t know what to say. Having now seen the work in Venezuela first hand, I try to encourage them to press ahead and to have faith.
Although typically associated with organized religion, faith, as defined in the Merriam-Webster dictionary, is a strong belief or trust in someone or something. Through my eyes, I feel that this core value almost singlehandedly embodies the source of the strength and fortitude of the El Sistema culture in Venezuela. The unshakeable resolve of the young children who thirst for musical knowledge, the undying dedication of the núcleo directors who graciously surrendered their lives for their programs, and the community-wide belief and trust in Dr. Abreu and his vision are a result of this foundation of faith – faith in their mission, faith in their leadership, and faith in themselves.
It’s difficult to have faith in one’s mission when there is no clear, tangible method to draw from. This alone makes the idea of starting a núcleo in the U.S. very intimidating. However, when facing these doubts, I am reminded of the outstanding leadership of the Fundación Musical Simon Bolivar. Each núcleo leader that I met was unique, vibrant, and passionate. They didn’t fit a united corporate aesthetic, as each one was very much his or her own self. It was clear that the overall quality and individuality of the núcleos evolved from who the directors were as people and the values they held. Each núcleo felt like home, despite being different from one another.
Witnessing El Sistema in Venezuela has, in a sense, validated many of my own ideas. Often times I approach my work in an unorthodox manner, and its usually very different from the current “trend.” The diversity within the singular umbrella of Fundamusical has inspired me to ignite my own spark, start my own trend, and have total devotion and faith in what I plan to do.
Sistema Fellow '14