Tuesday, April 3, 2012

On Rural Programs in El Sistema, Part 1: The Music

(The next few blog posts are based on interviews and observations in Valle de la Pascua and Calabozo, in the state of Guarico.)

The state of Guarico, in the center of Venezuela, has different nucleo models than others we've seen in Caracas and Barquisimeto. There is at least one central nucleo in each city, with modulos, or satellites, in the rural towns that surround it. The modulos are basically school-based programs, run by an administrator hired by the nucleo. Each modulo is its own program and makes decisions based on the needs and interests of its community. The students can travel to take lessons and participate in larger group ensembles at the central nucleo, and if they cannot get there (transportation or otherwise), the teachers from the nucleo will come to them.

Case in point: Mahomito near Valle de la Pascua. It's about a 30 minute drive from the center nucleo, down pothole-ridden roads and arid farmland (that may not actually be used for farming) where white cows with jowels and droopy ears roam freely. The school in Mahomito is tiny, and it's the only school for miles. When we arrive, Sergio (the nucleo director and our lovely host) points to a small, modest one-room building. He explains that when the school/modulo decided to have a choir program, it was necessary to have a separate room for rehearsals. To raise money for the building, parents and children made ceramic art pieces that they sold at the main nucleo during concerts. They raised enough money to build the building.

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Sergio explains the choir room

We walked in, and a choir of about 65 children was waiting to sing for us. They were of mixed ages, some as young as 5, others as old as 15. They sang several beautiful songs, but the one that got us weeping was at the very end. The choir director explained that there's a song they always like to sing to visitors, and would it be OK if they could sing it for us. (Of course it was.) What came next was 65 children pouring their hearts out to us. I don't know what they were singing, but it was evident that every child loved that song passionately. And there we were, in the middle of a field in central Venezuela, where -- even though life might be difficult for these children outside the walls of the school -- inside, they were making beautiful music together.

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One song with harp and the Mahomito choir

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The song the Mahomito choir loved the most

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