As an aside, I saw my first El Sistema drums corps sans marching and a brass gig group that played the Beatles. It's evolved away from solely classical music in the US! Conservatory Lab is like the Montalbán of the US and I am so happy to hear they are expanding to 8th grade serving over 300+ students and eventually reaching 444 kids!
Aside from a brain that's caught between languages and many new connections I learned some more insights about the "Sistema way."
1) "Fuerza primero, refinamiento luego" (strength first, refinement later)
Forte is Venezuela's first objective and does not equate to passion. So often I hear people saying El Sistema kids are so passionate. I have no doubt about this! BUT, what is distinguishing that passion? Is this to say there isn't passion in other forms of music education? I certainly had passionate teachers/choir directors! Personally, I think this difference is the emphasis on the strong sound. Dr. Abreu strives for this strong sound as a starting point. In fact, he has a bow technique that literally translates as "scratching at the frog [of the bow]."A strong sound builds self-esteem and confidence, two incredibly important human characteristics. In their opinion, pp (very soft) hinders technique and builds fear in the body. They emphasize this strong sound so much that for a long while piano dynamics are ignored in the music and everything is played forte.
I think it is this element of fortissimo, a surprise to which we're not used to hearing played by youth, magnified by the colossal size of their orchestras (200+), that some may claim as "passion."To say other music ed programs aren't passionate is just plain wrong.
2) The emphasis on scales
Roberto Zambrano, a founding member of El Sistema said everything for him was marked as pre/post his visit to Europe when he was studying Czech music for his Master's. He told me several times about how important it is to have the foundation of scales and it wouldn't be uncommon for them to work on this for an hour.
There is a pedagogy triangle of theory, practice, and philosophy. As I'm sure you're not surprised, scales was the foundation of practice and theory. Without scales one can't do anything. Philosophy was anything that wasn't specifically musical, but informed the piece or created "good" human beings.
3) The idea of ser y no ser
It's not that the current work is bad, but there's constantly the question of "What can I do better?" With this in mind, this isn't just applied to the music, but rather to the entire human being of constantly self-evaluating oneself.
4) It's not about being the best musician, but rather the best teacher
The best thing is to have a group of varying levels of musicians. A year ago, I would have thought this was a teacher nightmare, but now I realize that this is the best way to empower the students and strive for collective efficacy, and possibly a teacher's dream.
5) Playing together as an ensemble
Every time the VZ came to work with the students the exercises they did made them listen to each other and count in sections. It's the sum of these individual strengths that make up an orchestra. To build the symphonic sound, the same articulation is essential. This helps in establishing the "soñido corporal." The physical body of the orchestra needs to sound together.
6) Autogogica, translated as self-teaching
One (of many) reasons music is a way to develop human beings is the fact that music can be self-taught and guided. One can challenge themselves to do to the next exercise, discipline oneself to hone in on a particular section, or decide they want to play with their family/friends. It's the choice of that individual.
7) Discipline is not discipline for discipline's sake, but rather as a conduit for achieving goals
Jesús Sira defined discipline as rules for living together in order to achieve goals. A very different definition than any I had previously heard or thought of myself. I'd love to hear comments on this!
8) Last but NOT least, is the love of your work. VZ for those of you who don't know sometimes do this for 12 hrs straight. There is no such thing as a bathroom break, a snack break, or even a mere 30 second mental break. They work HARD. But it's because they love it. You can't do something to that degree that you don't love. When I asked them what they would have liked to have done more of this week, they all responded, "Work more."
Thank you to Mark Churchhill, CLCS, the Venezuelans, and everyone who generously hosted me this week. It was a wonderful, and very relevant/appropriate way to end my time in Boston. I hope I can visit soon!! They're having an international seminario in Acarigua June 14. Congrats to Maestro Abreu who received an honorary doctorate from Harvard alongside Oprah and Mayor Menino! And thus closes another life chapter.