Friday, March 2, 2012

Seeing El Sistema: A day in the Montalban nucleo

When you walk into the nucleo Montalbán, you see dozens of children hanging outside a large building. The backdrop is a green mountain, and beyond the gates to the center, adults and children line up to buy ice cream and snacks from a couple of vendors (the parents among them will have several hours yet to wait). As you walk inside, you see a few posters displaying the nucleo’s name, and some posters have pictures of various children. Several children sit around during their break.


You ask one child what he plays and he responds, “Cuatro.” Then he takes it out of a case and plays for you.
(Apologies for the video quality-- old camera with some health problems.)

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You wander into the building and there are several rooms on each of the three floors. In every single room, children are packed in, playing music.


In one room, we see a group of little children singing.

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In another room, a more advanced choir sings gorgeously for us (many of these singers performed in the Mahler 8 with the LA Phil and the Simon Bolivar Orchestra)

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Upstairs, a large group of string players works for hours on paying attention, proper positions, and scales after only a few weeks of playing. (Notice that the kids are singing along while they play.)

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Down the hall, we find a sectional of brass players. In El Sistema, everyone works very hard, but it is through the hard work together that they find joy.


This boy is 7 years old:















A second string orchestra works on their music (singing along, clapping, counting the rhythms together)














A brass, wind, and percussion ensemble works on their own pieces in addition to the orchestral repertoire. The El Sistema leaders believe that wind bands and other ensembles help the orchestras.

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There’s a cuatro class! Cuatro is a traditional Venezuelan instrument. These students have only been playing a couple of months, and they’re working on theory, position, paying attention, and basic cuatro techniques. Over time, the nucleo plans to start a traditional Venezuelan folk ensemble with some of the cuatro students. Other cuatro students will go on to orchestra once they get basic music concepts down.


A cuatro teacher balances fun with disciplined work, and positions one student as a leader by showing her how to conduct.


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An orchestra rehearses their repertoire. Our very own Jose-Luis inspires them. (My editing software is sub-par-- please scroll to 30 seconds in for the music. )

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Some of the younger cellists in that orchestra…


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