As a music educator and administrator, one of the strongest impressions I took away from the experience in Venezuela was the trickle-down effect. From the top down (or perhaps ground up?), to have faith and dedication in the mission while prioritizing the student in every decision. To trust in the people you work with, and empower them to help create a nurturing and safe atmosphere so that everyone can thrive personally and musically. Create space for healthy competition, but also support people in their mistakes so that the greater whole improves. Perhaps it is with my lens of striving for infinite positive regard, but I saw more students in a state of non-judgment and support than with negativity or a defeatist attitude. In Barquisimeto, when students needed to share instruments, there was no complaining or greed. There was simply helping each other and making music with their voices, until the instrument could be shared with their colleague.
That to me is where social action occurs, in that space provided and exemplified by all community members. More so than with words that may lack context coming from an authority figure, saying “Yes, no, right, wrong.” What if the answer is so much simpler, that no child needs to be “kept off the streets” or corrected so much as stripping away all of the barriers that keep them from rising to their potential? To be guided towards excellence, sharing music, and the rewards that can be found within. There is a reason why students at the age of six can play French horn in Venezuela; it is because they have not been told otherwise, and possess the will and support to do so. When you allow time and patience for those interactions to occur and become habit, by example or teaching, you are building better human beings, a better society.
What comes to mind is a quantum physics theory, in which the act of observation changes the observed reality. In one electron experiment, the more “watching” occurred, the less likely interference – in this case, the desired effect – was happening. The desired overarching effect with El Sistema may be to create beautiful human beings, as is true of many music education and social programs. But perhaps El Sistema is so successful in creating that ideal community because they do not focus on it, they instead simply carry the intention. They draw their focus to musical excellence, while assuming that every individual is inherently invaluable and critical to the success of their mission. They create an environment where students are supported in growing in to themselves, without “watching” them so hard that they lose the desired effect. The same could be said of administration to staff and faculty. One of the best tuba players I’ve ever heard was a teenager, and while I’m sure also guided by his mentors, very self-motivated, disciplined, and aware. He was talented of his own free will, and grateful for the opportunity.
As Rodrigo Guerrero described, Venezuela is a perfect vacuum for El Sistema. And much like the act of observing affecting results, the more you try to analyze it, pick it apart, try to replicate it, the more you may lose sight of the greater whole and impact. That is not to say I did not have specific experiences or tools that I will be utilizing in my career that I drew from Venezuela. Or that El Sistema doesn’t have ways it could improve, as they are open about already. The culture of sharing, support, and responsibility are integral to that forward motion of El Sistema. But it is also as simple as keeping the integrity of the mission, hard work, good-hearted people, and human spirit that create such a beautiful family of which I am proud to be a part. In the pure intention of one man that was communicated so effectively to his community, he helped to create an environment of collaboration, responsiveness, and empowerment that nourishes the very best in humanity.
Sistema Fellow '14