Abreu Fellowship, day 7.
Wow. It’s hard to believe we’ve only been at this for 7 days! Ensconced in the great halls of the New England Conservatory, I have joined 9 colleagues in the field of music education and orchestras to discover, challenge, analyze and champion the birth and growth of El Sistema in the United States.
El Sistema is the Venezuelan musical movement in social change that is sweeping Latin and South America, and has the music world on the edge of its seat trying to keep up! For a brief rundown, 60 minutes did an excellent expose on the program and its superstar champion, Gustavo Dudamel, El Sistema alum and newly appointed Music Director for the LA Phil. If that doesn’t get you hooked, check out this “youth” (I would use heroes) orchestra at the BBC Proms.
The Abreu Fellowship is named for the father of El Sistema, Maestro Jose Antonio Abreu. Maestro Abreu has received many honors for the mission and success of El Sistema, including the TED prize which granted his wish to create a fellowship program for young musicians to study El Sistema and bring the ideals back to their home cities. Abreu TED talk.
So here we are, and loving every minute of it. We are steeping in passion, activism, social justice, kids, and music music music.
Every day we have the great privilege of sharing in discussions and being challenged by leaders in arts and education including master teacher artist and philosopher Eric Booth, He asked us to wrap our minds around the following questions. These questions (and my responses) are just the tip of the iceberg. I am so grateful to have the opportunity to consider the iceberg beneath the surface!
1. Why use the experience of learning deeply inside complex music (classical) as an effective way to support and develop of urban youth?
Complex music requires an understanding of how parts are put together- and it requires participation by a community of people, all striving together to reach a goal that is more beautiful than is found in common experiences. Performing in orchestras creates a “now” (a world in a separate / parallel reality) that insists that everyone is in it all at the same time in order to get to the most deep experience of the music. Urban youth face challenges in their realities every day in which they are alone, and standing their ground in defense of their freedom of movement, or thought, of their families, of their right to live care-free lives. Asking urban youth to join you and work with each other to create a complex “now” that is beautiful, unique to them, and beyond their current realities can offer a new liberty that is important to them and worth defending. Once their minds find this new pathway of thinking and potential, my hope is that this new identity as musicians and creators will empower them to make different realities for themselves and their neighborhoods.
If El Sistema’s priorities are social change first, and becoming a musician second, what does that mean in terms of curriculum, and tasks….
For me, focusing deeply on complex music and the necessary steps to becoming a musician which involve deep consideration, noticing how we improve, making decisions about expression; these steps translate to becoming more reflective people. I THINK THIS IS SOCIAL CHANGE! My observation now is that social change is happening in Venezuela because they are making armies of thoughtful, collaborative, supportive citizens who are inspired by the life they find searching for beauty and the truths available in music and creativity. To maximize the impact of these citizens- I would begin to engage the orchestras of El Sistema in their communities- by capitalizing on their now natural inclinations to work together toward common goals, and in being excited about creating moments of great beauty.
In our work, we are striving to hold the aspects of the El Sistema motto Tocar y Luchar close to our hearts. Every day, we remind ourselves of the two most important elements driving the success of El Sistema:
1. Every child is an asset.
I for one am proud to be a new member of the system. Let me introduce you to the board of KidZNotes, a group of wonderful and generous people in Durham, North Carolina.
We are working now to plant the seeds of El Sistema in our community. More on our adventures soon!