Álvaro Rodas, who was born and raised in Guatemala City, Guatemala, is a percussionist, teacher and arts administrator. A Fulbright Scholar, Álvaro holds a Masters degree in Arts Administration from Columbia University. From 1992 to 2004 he was principal percussionist at the Guatemala National Symphony. He also taught percussion at the Guatemala National Conservatory. For two years he co-directed an 80-piece high school marching band that was the first Latin American ensemble to take part in the 1994 Hollywood Christmas Parade.
Since 1997, Rodas has been deeply involved in the replication of El Sistema in Guatemala. He has served as an administrator, percussion instructor, and coordinator of programs throughout the country, including the formation of a youth orchestra in Quetzaltenango with a grant from the World Bank in 2000–2001. More recently, Álvaro worked in a remote Mayan village as a percussion teacher and administrative consultant for a rural youth orchestra supported by World Vision Guatemala. During 2008, he created an audience development project which included the first performing arts audience survey in Guatemala City.
A Talk with Álvaro Rodas
How did you hear about the Abreu Fellows program?
A friend from Australia, who’s interested in implementing El Sistema there, posted the information on Facebook.
Why did you apply?
I want to continue my work with El Sistema in the U.S., and I want to be a part of its growth throughout the world.
What tools will you develop during this fellowship and how do you think these tools will be useful in your future post?
The one tool I have been looking for is a network of people facing similar challenges. Working with the other Fellows will be just the start of this network, as a support structure for growth. I also look forward to practicing some fundraising, U.S.-style!
Where do you see yourself in five years? What will you be doing and why?
I want to start a “nucleo” to serve Hispanic children, especially Central Americans living in New York City. I want to help and mentor new programs worldwide.
Why do you think that music education is important to a child’s development?
For children to participate in an orchestra as the center of their music education brings opportunities to build strong self-esteem, a sense of community, cooperation, and solidarity that empowers them to become better human beings and citizens.
Regarding the present state of music education for children in the U.S., what has been done right and where do you see room for improvement?
I see a mix of old traditional practices with scattered new initiatives. I think music educators have been great in being innovative, to the extent that the old status quo allows them to be. However, I don’t see coordinated efforts to come up with solutions that have a wide impact in how children benefit from music education.
How did you learn about El Sistema?
In 1989, at the Youth Orchestras of the Americas Festival in Puerto Rico, I met some musicians who presented themselves as part of the Venezuelan Orchestral Movement.
Why do you think El Sistema is unique? What elements made the El Sistema program successful where others were not?
El Sistema is not just a music education system. It is a complex social development program that aims to change individuals and their communities. One of its successful elements is that it aims to serve large numbers of beneficiaries, all working under the same spirit and preparing similar repertoires. This has helped in building strong networks of individuals in Venezuela and Latin America.
Have you worked with or mentored children in the past?
My last experience was teaching percussion to five Mayan children (ages 11–15) in a remote village’s youth orchestra in Guatemala. Their love of playing music—in spite of poverty, malnutrition, and having to work to help support their families—is inspiring.