December 6, 2013
NEC joins the rest of the world in mourning the death and celebrating the transformational life achievements of Nelson Mandela (1918–2013).
This year, we at the Conservatory are focusing attention on music that speaks truth to power—music that challenges the status quo, discharges the universal angst, and galvanizes the collective dream. There could be no better exemplar of speaking truth to power than Nelson Mandela. Over his lifetime, even after 27 years in prison, he was the embodiment of unwavering principal, commitment, endurance, reconciliation and forgiveness.
Brought up in South Africa, violinist Eriel Huang (third from right in photo), a member of the current class of Sistema Fellows and now spending a month-long residency in Venezuela, wrote the following reminiscence about Mandela in a letter to NEC President Tony Woodcock:
"I have a lump in my throat as I am writing this… I am over 10,000 km away from home and six hours behind the news that had trembled through the world. I can still vividly recall the day Mandela walked out a free man, fist raised with peace, victory and unity after being jailed for 27 years and never giving in to despair. I remember the day when people of all colours queued from sunrise to sunset to vote in the first democratic elections of South Africa.
For over 20 years I have memorized the faces and names and stories of friends and classmates who despite varying tones of skin colour played, studied, worked, cried and celebrated together.
Cry the beloved country, my beloved South Africa, for today our Tata has returned to his ancestors; but let us once again rise, rise to fight, fight with Madiba's spirit alongside each other in unity for the freedom that he himself gave his whole life so deeply for.
‘I would like to be remembered not as anyone unique or special, but as part of a great team in this country that has struggled for many years, for decades and even centuries. The greatest glory of living lies not in never falling, but in rising every time you fall.’—Madiba
How incredibly mystic the timing turned out to be, as I was doing my morning prayers I was thinking about my experiences here in Venezuela and how best to serve the people at home, and was singing 'Irish Blessing' amidst fellow fellows…when hours later I would be receiving the news of Tata…
I am humbled and grateful for the support, and the extraordinary experience here at this moment in time."
2008 photo of Nelson Mandela courtesy South Africa The Good News