The stories are real, it is truly a miracle. The passion and energy that emanates from young Venezuelan orchestras is mesmerizing. After our journey here in Venezuela, I know that my life in music will never be the same. At Nucleo Sarria, a community based initiative founded by Rafael Elster, we played through Arturo Marquez’s fiery Conga del Fuego. The youngsters also taught me some of their own national music, Alma Llanera and Chamambo. I felt being part of their own stories, their pride, their inextinguishable joy.
The students have a constant desire to acquire new knowledge. To realize a brighter present and future, to grow beyond music. Maestro Abreu’s vision for music as a catalyst for social transformation is at work at Sarria. His young musicians and their teachers are leading a new renaissance in music education. It is a privilege to witness this work first hand and to be inside the sound of that blessed space.
It is clear that the children see themselves as something larger than themselves. El Sistema has given them exceptional role models-- teachers that work tirelessly to redefine their student‘s sense of self-worth and potential; to provide them opportunities to experience beauty on a daily basis. It is that kind of implicit responsibility and purpose that drives their connection to the larger mission of El Sistema. “It is very hard work, but one has to make it personal or else our mission would never work,” Elster said.
There is something very special about working with orchestras in Venezuela. The children lead rather than follow the music. Everyone is part of the team, there aren’t any boundaries or hierarchical spheres in this framework. The musician’s at the head of sections aren’t necessarily the best players. A model where competition is non-existent constitutes an ideal space for El Sistema. Of course, that doesn’t mean that children can’t aspire to claim a coveted spot as part of the national orchestras, but rather, through a process where collective virtuosity stems as an outcome of individual skills, musicians grow and thrive, reaching even higher levels of musical achievement. They come to experience music through a vision that is guided by a spirit of solidarity. And this same spirit, provides them with a new family within the nucleo: a safe-haven to learn, socialize, and feel valued.
Their music is rendered through a transfixing kinesthetic quality (one can see that this process starts early on, as evidenced by their strong early childhood programs centered on movement and expression). It is a larger community of practice, a network within the orchestra, of mutual support; and of a new joyful reality. This is all reflected in the aesthetics of the music-making.
Indeed, one of the beauties of this work is how teachers envision the potential and life trajectories of their students. Najaneth Perez has been working at Sarria for over 7 years, she knows that her students are capable of accomplishments far beyond their own imaginations, in music and in life (there are no distinctions here, these two constitute one indissoluble dimension). And that’s why she works incessantly, listening to and perfecting them in the outside patio, amid the weather and the elements. Because she believes that she can make a difference. Every one of her students matters, every note means something, and it adds up. After all, it is personal.