Jonathan Andrew Govias would like to change the way people think about classical music. His practical exploration of music’s social impact has brought him great fulfillment and uncommon recognition: since 2004 he has received three major awards for his success in developing orchestras that are in artistic and financial symbiosis with communities around the world.
His artistic accomplishments are no less significant. Appointed Music Director of the Calcutta Orchestra immediately after finishing his undergraduate degree, he has since completed a doctorate, performed with orchestras on three continents, including a June 2009 debut with Canada’s National Arts Centre Orchestra, and participated in highest level workshops with Kurt Masur, Jorma Panula, Marin Alsop and Gustav Meier.
Jonathan loves what he does—and loves what music can do beyond what is conventionally thought or believed.
A Talk with Jonathan Govias
How did you hear about the Abreu Fellows program?
The information was circulated on blogs and other online resources for conductors.
Why did you apply?
El Sistema—its ideals, objectives and accomplishments—is the place where my knowledge, my diverse experiences, and my passion all converge.
What tools will you develop during this fellowship and how do you think these tools will be useful in your future post?
I want to understand exactly how El Sistema functions on every level— pedagogically, socially, economically, organizationally—and adapt or export it to whatever geographic, social, and economic context I work in.
Where do you see yourself in five years? What will you be doing and why?
I hope to play a leading part in redefining the role of the American orchestra in the community, revolutionizing its educational, advocacy, labour, and leadership traditions.
Why do you think that music education is important to a child’s development?
All the arts demand creativity and discipline, but music is uniquely and inherently a social activity, a live communication and interaction between equals. We come together and collaborate to make music in ways that are both emotional and intellectual.
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?
The arts were designated core subjects under NCLB legislation; this was a good start. Unfortunately, the bill has been underfunded by government and misinterpreted in implementation, and access to arts programs remain an issue. Our focus should now be on achieving real equality of opportunity rather than unrealistic equality of competency.
How did you learn about El Sistema?
I was referred to the program by someone who was aware of my work in parallel in India, and who had recently visited Venezuela.
Why do you think El Sistema is unique? What elements made the El Sistema program successful where others were not?
The idea behind El Sistema isn’t unique; other efforts in the developing world have produced similar results. What is unique about El Sistema is the scope and scale of both the program and its human success. Its leadership, and the commitment it generates from every participant to the highest levels of government, is what sets it apart.
Have you worked with or mentored children in the past?
I had the pleasure of preparing a very young orchestra (ages 8–12) for a concert a few years ago. The most remarkable part of the experience was realizing just how high a standard could be achieved when commitment and responsibility were prioritized.