This is just a really good idea in general.
My recent guest column for The Ensemble, a monthly newsletter reporting on the U.S. and Canada Sistema-inspired movement.
April 1, 2016
"Across the Americas"
What began as a simple spaghetti dinner with Maestro Abreu in New York quickly turned into a continental mission – as things tend to do, with the Maestro. “We are going to generate a continental project with the Simon Bolivar Orchestra of Venezuela,” he told me. I had just heard him give a lecture about unifying the Americas through music, and we talked about the mentoring relationship between two Mexican musical giants, composer Carlos Chavez and conductor Eduardo Mata, and the Simon Bolivar in its early days. It’s imperative, Abreu told me, that the spirit of this once-thriving alliance be rekindled.
In short order, I was in Caracas with two of Mexico’s top young musicians, bringing a new piano concerto to the Bolivars. The piano soloist was Abdiel Vazquez; the piece we premiered was Piramide del Sol, by Juan Pablo Contreras.
Working with the orchestra, I experienced firsthand the total commitment to music and the generosity of spirit that contribute to their distinctive greatness. I got used to hearing the brass section continue to fine-tune intricate passages long after our rehearsal ended. (The power of the string sound was a treasure to behold!) It was common for me to receive words of encouragement from orchestra members. Right before the performance, many wished me well.
What can we learn from the Bolivars, we who work with young U.S./Canadian Sistema programs? First, we need to do everything we can to nurture the feeling of interdependence in our orchestras—you are responsible for others and they are responsible for you. We need to think in terms of inspiring motivation in our ensembles so that they can take ownership of their own learning and outcomes.
The second lesson is about the “continental project.” We need to keep generating links with programs beyond our own geographical domains. The Bolivars’ path to becoming one of the world’s leading orchestras involved a diligent exchange and confluence of artistic cultures from the Americas to Europe and back. By actively listening to the sound of others, the orchestra was able to find its voice. If we listen closely across continents, we too will begin to find our voices.
Pre-concert gathering with Exec. Director and Concertmaster. Just before going on stage with the Atlanta Music Project!
All together now. Great to collaborate with these wonderful young musicians! #elsistema #music #education #AMP
I am delighted to share this video of my performance with the Simon Bolivar Orchestra of Venezuela in Caracas last November. This is a brand new Piano Concerto by Juan Pablo Contreras, a leading young Mexican composer. At the piano is the phenomenal Abdiel Vázquez - Pianist who was also a joy to work with! More music to come…
Muy contento de compartirles este video de mi presentación con la Orquesta Sinfónica Simón Bolívar de Venezuela en Caracas el pasado mes de Noviembre. Disfruten de un nuevo Concierto para Piano de Juan Pablo Contreras, uno de los más importantes compositores jóvenes de México. Como solista el fenomenal pianista Abdiel Vázquez con quien disfrute mucho compartir este concierto. Más música por venir…
With tourism thriving and a rough history with drugs mostly in its past, each of the four cities I visited in Colombia were unique. I packed for weather ranging from 40—90 degrees as the changes in climate and landscape were as diverse as the Sistema-inspired programs I visited.
My trip started in Medellin, a very large city bustling with traffic, mountainous views, perfect temperatures, and stunning properties. The youth instrumental programs in Medellin are run by an organization called La Red, which serves students in over 30 neighborhoods and schools throughout the city. Funded by the city government, the program serves both affluent and underserved areas—a unique concept in Medellin, where lots of effort has been placed on equalizing the playing field between residents with a varied levels of income. I was introduced to two schools in La Red by two of my former Boston colleagues, Rebecca Levi (Sistema Fellow ’10) and Claudia Garcia. When visiting the programs, we witnessed a less intense, but more creative approach to music making. Each program showcases a different type of ensemble, caters to all ages, and also provides instruction in music literacy. For instance, In Claudia’s nucleo, a theatre teacher taught a class on how to use their body’s to communicate and build trust within an ensemble. When visiting the wind ensemble in another part of the city, the ages of the students ranged from 12—22.
After a quick vacation in the popular city of Cartagena, my next stop was Santa Marta, a warm, tropical, costal city on the Caribbean. Another former Boston colleague, Antonio Berdugo, hosted me as we spent our time hosting seminarios with students in Cajamag, a private organization that uses public funding to serve youth in the area. The music program is only a small branch of the organization, which leads to an insufficient quantity on resources, limiting their ability to grow artistically. This was a huge contrast to Venezuela’s national Sistema, which is able to offer more support and resources to their teachers, helping them improve the musical level of their program. The students in Santa Marta, of course, were fantastic to work with and displayed enthusiasm and hospitality that made rehearsals in the intense heat totally enjoyable.
The final leg of my trip was in Bogota, Colombia’s capital city situated at over 8,000ft, where the temperature stays in the 50’s year around. I had a wonderful time working with the musicians of the Metropolitan Youth Orchestra of Batuta, the largest music for social change organization in the country. Given their flagship status, my first instinct was to compare their Metropolitan Youth Orchestra with the leading youth orchestras in Venezuela. However, given that the organization has branches in fewer cities, focuses more on fundamental musical training rather than orchestra training, and has been around for only just over 20 years, I realized that the leading “Sistema’s” in both countries are quite distinct. The lack of one governing organization throughout the country made it more difficult to achieve the standardized resources, which has led to so much artistic success in Venezuela. However, the more localized approach to building a Sistema in each city, rather than to form a national system has yielded some flexibility is allowing for each city to have numerous organizations create their own programs and customize their approach to each community.
The difference in infrastructures in Colombia and Venezuela was certainly unexpected at first. While Venezuela has clearly invested much of its resources into developing a national system of youth orchestras that serves as many youth as possible, Colombia had a feel much closer to that of the United States and Europe--separate organizations created localized programs without much outside leadership. The clear commonality between the two South American countries was the children, who were eager, passionate, and relentless in their pursuit of music education, which instilled the joy that will motivate me to plan my next trip to South America soon.
For a video containing photos, rehearsal footage, and student testimonies from my trip to Colombia, please see the video below!