[Marxism] Venezuelan youth orchestra affects Placido Domingo & others

Brian Shannon Brian_Shannon at verizon.net
Mon Nov 28 09:49:32 MST 2005

By Jens Erik Gould
In Caracas

Placido Domingo cried when he saw the Venezuelan Youth Orchestra 

The world-renowned opera singer confessed that the concert evoked the 
strongest emotions he had ever felt.

Sir Simon Rattle, director of the Berlin Philharmonic, swore that the 
country's youth orchestras were doing the most important work in 
classical music anywhere in the world.

And former Berlin Philharmonic director Claudio Abbado only needed to 
see one performance by the orchestra to invite the Venezuelans to play 
in Germany.

The talented musicians of the National System of Venezuelan Youth and 
Children's Orchestras are a source of national pride, like football 
stars in other Latin American countries.

They have also inspired 23 countries across the hemisphere to launch 
similar music education programmes.

Troubled youths

Called El Sistema by its members, the programme is celebrating 30 years 
of making classical musicians out of half-a-million young Venezuelans, 
and it has transformed the lives of many underprivileged and at-risk 
youths in the process.

"I wish players in the US were here to hear the conviction with which 
you play," Gwyn Richards, dean of Indiana University's School of Music, 
told a Caracas youth orchestra after it played Dmitri Shostakovich's 
Festive Overture in honour of his visit.

"No-one is just walking through it, watching the clock," he said later. 
"When they play, they really mean it."

The young musicians' excitement stems from the programme's social 
mission, which its founder Jose Antonio Abreu describes as helping "the 
fight of a poor and abandoned child against everything that opposes his 
full realisation as a human being".

One of Mr Abreu's musicians is Lennar Acosta, 23, who six years ago was 
already making his ninth visit to a Caracas correctional facility after 
a history of heavy drug use and armed robbery.

While the facility denied Mr Acosta's request to return to school, the 
youth orchestra took him on as a student and soon gave him a 

He now earns his living at a music institute, has played a dozen times 
in the nation's famed Teresa Carreno music hall, and is studying to 
perform Mozart's clarinet concerto.

"One of the biggest emotions I've felt was when they gave me a 
clarinet," Mr Acosta said, sitting with his instrument in hand in a 
Caracas music conservatory.

"El Sistema ended up straightening me out. It is my family, like my 

Key performance

When 11 young musicians put on the Youth Orchestra's first concert in 
1975, there were only two symphony orchestras in the entire country.

The programme has helped boost that number to around 200, with at least 
one professional orchestra in every state.

El Sistema has also transcended politics and regime changes, receiving 
increased funding from every new government. Its 2005 budget is $23m.

	We broke the myth that you have to be from the upper class to play 
Carlos Sedan

The growing quantity and quality of Venezuelan musicians is due in part 
to the programme's teaching methods, which involve inviting children as 
young as two to play in front of audiences as soon as they begin 
learning their instruments.

Susan Siman, one of El Sistema's founders, says that playing her first 
concert at the age of eight motivated her to keep improving as a 

"I was terrified. The music score went blank," Ms Siman said of her 
performance of Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star, with her parents in the 

"But at the end, [the concert] was what motivated me and I wanted to do 
it better."

This approach to music education is beginning to leave its mark on 
orchestras worldwide.

The Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra's Gustavo Dudamel, 24, who is a 
disciple of Sir Simon Rattle, won the Bamberg Symphony's Gustav Mahler 
Conducting Competition last year.

He also received rave reviews from local press after conducting the Los 
Angeles Philharmonic in September.

The programme's Edicson Ruiz has also earned a seat as double bassist 
with the Berlin Philharmonic at just 20 years of age.

Class barriers

In a two-week period in November, visitors to the Caracas Youth 
Symphony included Gwyn Richards, contemporary Polish composer Krzysztof 
Penderecki and Italian violinist Uto Ughi.

Mr Richards said he was impressed with the programme's goal to create a 
larger space for classical music in popular culture.

El Sistema has brought the sounds of Beethoven to the masses, by giving 
children instruments, scholarships and free transportation, in barrios 
such as the Caracas neighbourhood of Sarria.

About 90% of students there are from the country's lowest economic 

"In Venezuela, we broke the myth that you have to be from the upper 
class to play violin," says the Sarria school's director, Carlos Sedan.

Young musicians in Sarria are not allowed to take their instruments 
home because of the risk of being mugged, and some come to class with 
headaches because their families cannot afford food.

Yet when they perform, they become the pride of their neighbourhoods 
and inspire their parents to learn about the great classical composers.

"I saw the whole evolution. [In the beginning] you saw a certain 
sadness in their faces," said Antonio Mayorca, who taught music in a 
low-income Caracas neighbourhood and is also first violinist in the 
Simon Bolivar orchestra.

"But when they started to play music, it was different. The light that 
they transmitted taught me a lot."
Story from BBC NEWS:

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