Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Venezuela Series: martes y miércoles

Tuesday was the day we have been waiting for all year: our first visit to a Venezuelan nucleo.  We spent the afternoon at the Montalban nucleo, on the west side of Caracas.

This nucleo houses 16 different ensemble programs for around 2000 kids between the ages of 3 - 18.  We observed a variety of classes, including general music for the 3-4 year olds, a cello class, a beginning violin class, choir, woodwind and brass sectionals, the youth orchestra string sectional and youth orchestra winds sectional.  

Eight horns for Tchaikovsky 4? Of course!

My main take-away of the day occurred in the beginning violin sectional.  This group of approximately 40 children, somewhere between the ages of 6 - 9, just began their studies four months ago.  Bow holds have been mastered, and after working exclusively with open strings for a few weeks, they have started utilizing the fingerboard.  They are working on the most basic concepts of violin playing, performing very simple tunes.  During the rehearsal of one of these songs, the instructor paused to express to the students the importance of presence and emotion during performance.  She told them, "you need to know how to draw a smile from the audience."  The connection with the audience and the meaning behind why they are playing music is taught to these kids at the same time as the fundamentals of basic musicianship.  It's no wonder why the Simon Bolivar orchestra is so captivating: they learn to convey an energy and a love for what they do from the very beginning.  They know that the performance isn't just about what happens on stage.

Wednesday morning was spent at Caracas' Centro Academico de Luthería, which is the main training school for El Sistema luthiers.  Housed in a vocational school, the workshop is run by El Sistema luthiers who teach students between the ages of 14-26 how to build and repair orchestral and traditional Venezuelan string instruments.  Once the students are certified- which takes an average of two years- they are then hired by El Sistema to either work for one of its 30 existing instrument workshops, or to start a new instrument workshop in an area of the country that doesn't yet have one.

Inside the Centro Academico de Luthería

We got to talk to many of the luthiers and apprentices, who were extremely gracious in sharing their expertise with us.  The highlight of the morning was when four of the luthiers performed for us, which resulted in an impromptu dance lesson for Monique and me (stay tuned for videos once Carlos gets his blog up and running!).

Wednesday afternoon was spent at another branch of the Academico de Luthería.  This particular site is a pilot program in partnership with the Venezuelan Foundation for the Cure of Paralysis.  All twelve students in this nucleo have varying degrees of limb paralysis.  At this center, the students learn how to make and repair bows, as well as complete basic repair on string instruments.  Just as with the other academies, once the students are certified they are employable.  

This partnership is a lovely realization of El Sistema's ability to create equal opportunities for access and inclusion.  The luthier at this shop had never worked with students with physical disabilities; he learned how to do so on the job.  This required him to learn how to do all of his work sitting down, as his students have to do.  He also fashioned special tools to aid his students who have hand impairments, and came up with games and exercises for them to build dexterity in their hands.

It's important to note that the main cause of lower limb paralysis in Venezuela is gunshot wounds, followed by traffic accidents.  Most of the students at this academy received their paralysis through a traumatic experience.  With that in mind, the luthier explained to us that while he is not a therapist, this nucleo serves as a sort of group therapy for the students.  It gives them a supportive social network and a trade.  In alignment with the words of the luthier, all of the students present expressed their joy and gratitude for the opportunity to be involved in the program.  Several of the students travel two hours one-way just to get to the center every day.

What a beautiful embodiment of everyone's favorite fundamental of El Sistema: Every human being has the right to a life of dignity and contribution.

The rest of this week in Caracas includes a meeting with El Sistema's executive director and additional key staff, 3 nucleo visits and endless beauty.  Stay tuned!

I am being spoiled rotten.

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