Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Venezuela's "The System"

Not so fast... it does NOT refer to what is no doubt Hugo Chavez's labyrinthine gulag system, but to a system of educating Venezuelan in classical music -- beginning at age 3.

A little taste:

It is known as "El Sistema" — the National System of Youth and Children's Orchestras of Venezuela — and it's becoming a model internationally for getting children excited about classical music.

Daniela's orchestra of 6-to-12-year-olds spends afternoons rehearsing Beethoven's Symphony No. 7 and Merle J. Isaac's "Gypsy" Overture in the shade of a mango tree that towers over a colonial-era courtyard.

Many students come from humble families who otherwise couldn't afford instruments or formal training. A cement plant and chicken farms are the biggest employers in this small town, but music is giving the children a new direction.

The System was begun in 1975 and has been financed by successive governments since then. It was born as the dream of a visionary economist, musician and former congressman, Jose Antonio Abreu, who was driven by a conviction that all children should have access to a quality musical education.

Today there are some 150 youth orchestras and 70 children's orchestras in Venezuela. The System involves more than 250,000 pupils, extraordinary for a country of about 27 million people.

This began in 1975 -- very pre Hugo Chavez. It sounds intriguing and I find it interesting that Venezuela is encouraging this when in the U.S. the trend is away from so-called "extra-curriculars" -- or should I say non-sport extra-curricular activities -- arts in particular.

In today's world where the Beatles are the equivalent to Beethoven in artistic quality it's no wonder classical music ("classical" in the broad sense) is not valued by the majority. I know the difference between high and low art, but a broader array of folks appreciated Handel, Mozart, Purcell, et al. than do today. The lack of funding of the arts in public schools is just example #34,678 of how are educational system is failing our children.

It's sad that Venezuela gets that and we don't -- sad for the U.S. I mean. For the Venezuelans -- I hope they continue to cling to and foster this heritage. With Chavez in charge I'm not optimistic. Communists always eventually declare the West to be decadent and outlaw some or all of it. Hopefully Chavez will not be able to consolidate his rule into a "President for life" situation.

1 comment:

JJ said...

Troy, don't forget that the Soviet Union also fostered an artistic culture, albeit for the sole purpose of glorification of the state.

Shostakovich, Prokofiev, Arvo Part (Estonia), and many unknown others like the more modern Alfred Schnittke had to write for cartoons and propaganda films, all the while keeping their private works deemed as critical of the state under lock and key, under threat of death. A classical example is the story of Shostakovich's 4th Symphony.

That didn't really start to loosen up until Gorbachev and glasnost.

I can see Chavez being egotistic enough to keep it going. I will though that, after hearing the Venezuelan Youth orchestra under Gustavo Dudamel at the was, well, basically every hyperbolic euphemism you can think of. outstanding.