Monday, March 4, 2013

Venezuela Series: Caracas Wrap-Up

On Thursday, we had the great fortune of meeting with El Sistema's executive director, Eduardo Mendez.  As you can imagine, Eduardo is quite a busy guy, so the fact that we got to meet with him is pretty outstanding.  He got about 10 phone calls on two different phones during our short time with him, but only answered the phone when the caller was Dr. Abreu.

Not surprisingly, this meeting was amazing.  Eduardo gave us so many insights on what El Sistema is and isn't, and how to gain the most out of our experience in Venezuela.  If I wrote my thoughts about everything he said, this entry would be 50 paragraphs long.  Here are a few gems from the conversation (expect later posts on some of these topics):

*You can't buy a teacher; you have to develop him.
*El Sistema Venezuela are NOT the "owners of the truth."  El Sistema will look different in different places.
*You cannot sacrifice quality for quantity.  It doesn't matter how many; it matters how good!  This is how transformation happens.
*Anyone can play at his or her best level.

Elaine, Elise and Xochitl before our meeting

In the afternoon we went to the nucleo in La Rinconada, an area of Caracas owned by the government.  This nucleo has three different buildings, and serves children from the ages of 2 - 18.  We observed many different sectionals and rehearsals, in an experience similar to the one we had in Montalban.

Inside one of the La Rinconada buildings

After our nucleo visit, we went back to the Center for Social Action to attend a concert by the Simon Bolivar Wind Ensemble.  The age range of this group is somewhere around 16-24.  This wind ensemble also includes full cello and bass sections, which I have never seen before.  They performed several exciting works, my favorite of which was an arrangement of Johan de Meij’s Extreme Make-Over, which is based off of several Tchaikovsky themes.  It brought back fond memories of when I performed this work with the JMU brass band several years ago, though I’ll admit my heart sank when some of the most thrilling and challenging horn parts from the original brass band version were given to the alto saxes in the wind band arrangement.

On Friday, after a morning and early afternoon full of swimming, sunshine and horn playing, I had my favorite experience in Venezuela thus far: our visit to the Sarria nucleo.  This nucleo is at an elementary school, though not all of the El Sistema children come from that specific school.  The level of playing was phenomenal.

These young trumpeters have only been playing since September.

These students have been playing their instruments for 2.5 years

After observing several sectional rehearsals, we all got our hands dirty in the beginning orchestra rehearsal, comprised of children who have only been playing their instruments since September 2012.  We were all sitting in the sections with our specific instruments, helping out where we could.  After a while, the conductor pointed to me with his baton and beckoned me to the stage to conduct the orchestra through Pomp and Circumstance.  I’m convinced the conductor somehow knew that I was the least capable fellow in the room for this task.  After a quick “hola, me llamo Rachel,” we dove in.  When we reached the end of the piece, all of the children applauded for me.  I was stunned.  Then the conductor came back on stage, and I returned to the brass section.  The trumpets and horns had only learned the introduction to the piece, and were sitting and listening intently to the rest of the orchestra after they had played through the part they knew.  Carlos decided to take over the trumpet part, and I followed suit on the horn part.  This did not go unnoticed by the rest of the orchestra.  Once again, when we reached the end of the piece, the entire orchestra turned to the brass section and applauded Carlos and me.  At the end of rehearsal, girls from the violin section ran up to me to hug me.

My new friends in Sarria

I left this nucleo feeling so loved and appreciated, even though I was barely able to communicate verbally with any of the students.  They were so hungry for musical help, and so loving and affectionate.  The “vibe” at this nucleo cannot be put into words, but the fellows left feeling amazing and yearning to spend more time there.

Most of the nucleos around Caracas were taking the day off on Saturday for various reasons, so Rodrigo took advantage of the free time to show us around.  We went to the top of La Avila, which is the highest mountain in Caracas.  The view from up there is breathtaking.

After a great walk, we stopped for lunch in a nearby town.  One of the best things about Venezuela is the juice.  Every restaurant has several different kinds of natural juices, which taste infinitely better than our chemical-laden juices in the US.

Strawberry, Blackberry and Peach Juices

We wrapped up this beautiful day with a concert of Verdi arias by the Simon Bolivar orchestra and guest vocalists.  This is not the same Simon Bolivar orchestra that tours the world, but is comprised of the more senior members of El Sistema: “Abreu’s kids."  It was an honor to be present in the audience, and to bear witness to the product of Abreu’s early years of building orchestras around the country.

Thus ends a fantastic week in Caracas.  I am posting this blog next to a sleeping Elaine and Monique in our hotel room in Barquisimeto.  I’ve been told that there is amazing brass playing happening in this city, so I am extremely excited for what lies ahead.

See you in a few weeks, Caracas!

1 comment:

  1. How exciting!!! It looks like you're having a wonderful time and learning so much! I'm excited to read your next post!