Tocar y Luchar (To Play and To Struggle)

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.

Me, (middle left) and my fellow fellows, guests of Ben Zander

Me, (middle left) and my fellow fellows, guests of Ben Zander

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.

Graduates of El Sistema provided an insiders perspective

Graduates of El Sistema provided an insiders perspective

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.

Jamie Bernstein's Documentary Project Camera Crew

Jamie Bernstein's Documentary Project Camera Crew

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.

Katie Wyatt and David Malek, Abreu Fellows

Katie Wyatt and David Malek, Abreu Fellows

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.

2. JOY!

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.

KidZNotes Supporters! Kathie Morrison (center) is chair

KidZNotes Supporters! Kathie Morrison (center) is chair

We are working now to plant the seeds of El Sistema in our community. More on our adventures soon!



7 Responses to “Tocar y Luchar (To Play and To Struggle)”

  1. Yvette Says:

    Hello Katie Wyatt,
    I’ve been following El Sistema for a while now…since the 60 Minutes program aired. Now a few of us in Asheville are trying to begin an El Sistema here. We are at the brain storming level. I wonder if you could answer some questions or steer us in the right direction.

    Is the name “El Sistema” protected in any way? Do you need to follow a specific curriculum to use the name? (for instance El Sistema of Asheville).

    Will your program be affiliated with the community’s professional orchestra?

    Are the El Sistema programs outside of Venezuela also including the early childhood component? Will yours? How can we find out more about this segment of the curriculum?

    Is there a resource for recommended steps in getting the family’s support and “training” to help the children who are participating?

    Can you email me privately?

  2. Virginia Bridges Says:

    Katie, Your updates make me smile. Thank you for taking the time to share. Virginia

  3. Ellen Reckhow Says:

    Your enthusiasm and passion is palpable.
    I look forward to working with you as we make KidzNotes an important component of the EDCI continuum.

  4. Aaron Flagg Says:


    Soy muy feliz para usted y le aprecio compartiendo su experiencia en línea. ¡¡Vaya Katie!!

    Tenga cuidado,


    I am very happy for you and appreciate you sharing your experiences online. Go Katie!!

    Take care,


  5. Dorothy Kitchen Says:

    This vision of working together to create beauty is the actual root of all
    work in classical music and is completely translateable into areas where there
    are difficult social situations and conditions. The challenge is to find a place,
    the instruments, and the dedicated people to work with the students on a
    regular basis so that they catch the vision and are not disheartened by the
    physical challenges of providing instruments and supplies. This will certainly
    be what the Abreu fellows will hold in their hearts as they work with this.

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