Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Seeing El Sistema: Caracas, Sarria nucleo

The nucleo Sarria is located in a school in the middle of a barrio (neighborhood). After the school day ends, the school is taken over with hundreds of children learning to play music.

Most of the space is outdoors, and the students and teachers take advantage of any space they can find. As we wander around, we find dozens of small groups of children learning together with teachers. Along one corridor, children whose feet don't touch the ground work on flute, bassoon, oboe, and clarinet. (In this picture, the kids share instruments because there aren't enough flutes.)

Along another corridor, a group of brand new brass players works on scales with their teachers.

This little boy is 7 years old. No joke.

Under a large tree, we discover a percussion ensemble. The teacher explains to us that because there isn't so much for percussionists to play in orchestra at this stage, they have several hours of percussion ensemble every week to work on their own repertoire.

In a small auditorium, we find a large children's orchestra, that plays beautiful Venezuelan music for us. The children play with unbridled passion.

A few things become clear at this nucleo:
  • The children feel very proud to be in this program (as evidenced by our chatting with numerous children, who expressed joy and pride in being part of the orchestra)
  • Repetition is emphasized to achieve perfection (while observing classes, I notice that many teachers ask the students to repeat until they get the phrase or notes perfect). In other words, continuously striving toward improvement.
  • They make do with what they've got: Not enough instruments? Share them (taking turns in group lessons). No free classroom? Take a music stand and go outside.
  • Group lessons reign supreme here. Within the group lessons, many teachers attend to each individual, while the other kids wait patiently, or work on the same technique that the teacher is demonstrating. (RE: waiting patiently, it's also possible that the kids were on very good behavior because they had a bunch of guests in the room. But still, it was impressive.)
Teacher working with students who have been playing for 2 days!

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