El Sistema

Corora is a hot city with a very nice old town in colonial style. We enjoy the Plaza Bolivar and look at the “yellow house”. There we meet Jesus, the librarian, who explains to us under a huge mango tree that Venezuelan society is not mature enough to understand Chavez’s ideas. The good idea of the community councils in the barrios, which represent a kind of small government of the neighborhood, are mostly just exploited by the people. The sense of creating something together is missing, the education is missing, the ethics is missing, what should 11 year old mothers teach their children? (Venezuela has one of the highest rates of child-motherhood). Venezuelans are used to being supported. Clearly Chavez will win the elections, if not, the “revolution” he initiated (The “Misiones”) will fail, because the people love him, Hugo, and distrust the other members of the government. Jesus calls the revolution in initiation signs, because in his opinion, the policy of Hugo Chavez is the continuation of the previous presidents and does not represent a break. He himself loves the European football of the 80s. Venezuelans lack culture, unfortunately.

Although they are proud of their contribution to the culture in Carora: the first children’s orchestra of Venezuela comes from Carora, just around the corner, Jesus tells us. We don’t miss this chance and we trudge bravely through the heat to the “Casa de la Cultura” and there we meet Luis Jose Riera, called “Chispa”. He explains to us “El Sistema” – unlike elsewhere, the musician is not the protagonist, but the group and “the system”. The idea behind it was originally to get children from simple backgrounds off the streets and into the cultural centers. Everybody gets an instrument for free if he practices and plays along. In the meantime, the social project has also become a music project.

In Germany, the children and youth orchestras have become known through films about the current conductor Gustavo Dudamel. He has also conducted the Berlin Symphony. Whereas Antonio Abreu alone is considered the father of the “system”. And that annoys Luis. Also that Carora and her children’s orchestra are not mentioned in any of the files. He, who joined the orchestra in 1975 when he was only 9 years old, feels this is unfair, because the real origin was here, in Carora, near Barquisimeto. The Chilean Sergio Miranda had founded the first social children’s orchestra project in Chile in La Serena. When on September 11 (1973) the coup against Allende brought the dictator Pinochet to power, he left Chile and came to Venezuela with his idea in his pocket. There Juan Martinez had founded the first cultural center (Casa de la Cultura) in 1965. In order to realize the idea of Sergio Miranda, Juan Martinez manages to gather a few adult music enthusiasts and to organize concerts with them, in order to inspire the customers and to collect money for the project. Thus, in 1974, they founded the first children’s orchestra in Venezuela, at the same time the first orchestra outside the capital, where all the cultural activities of Venezuela are usually concentrated. They give their first concert in Caracas in 1975 (we have seen the newspaper articles from that time), and Luis Chispa Riera is there! He is nine years old and incredibly excited and proud. Jose is still a jack-of-all-trades on all instruments, a man who has gleam in his eyes as soon as he touches an instrument. Not for nothing he has the nickname “Chispa”, which means “pepper” or “fire”.

Antonio Abreu hears about the concert and comes to Carora immediately afterwards, making the famous “system” out of the individual case of 1976, which now exists all over Venezuela and from which the youngest conductor Gustavo Dudamel has sprung. And then he shows us the music school. First the small rooms, where they practice alone or with 2-3 other children. But soon the heart of the school, the orchestra. Today, Wednesday, there are few children – only half as many as usual. When we enter and he announces us as guests from Italy and Germany, they play the “Ode to Joy”. Again and again, twice, three times, for us. I am moved. The atmosphere is magical, the impression strong. It sounds at times terribly shrill, the conductor’s musical ears have to be patient, but what you hear is stunning! I can imagine that the children are enthusiastic about this system: instead of boring individual lessons and now and then a concert of the music school for mommy and daddy, the effect here is to contribute as an individual to something whole, something big, to be important for the group. Great!

At the end he leads us to the very small ones – a kind of kindergarten, where already for the music and the team is inspired. This is the offspring of the children’s orchestra.