Definitively, Venezuela’s National System of Junior and Children Orchestras and Choirs is far more than just an artistic education program. Experiencing The System means receiving the influence of passion and discipline that prevail in every professor, student, classroom, in every space where music sounds with its finest chords in order to foster individual and collective development, limitless education and social integration.
Founded in 1975 by maestro José Antonio Abreu, The System features a learning model that has united, over four decades, some 2.600,000 Venezuelans not only due to its comprehensive educational program, but because of the excellence values it teaches. This artistic pyramid, which includes regional and national orchestras of children and young people, has given birth to great musicians, prestigious directors of orchestras and composers that presently establish guidelines in the musical realm.
Over 400 circles and 1,300 modules distributed throughout the country stand as spaces to educate 600,000 children and teenagers that are members of The System. Lourdes Hidalgo, director of the Preschool Orchestral Initiation Program –Simón Rodríguez La Hoyada Group, explains how music becomes a teaching method: “We have 526 children in the morning, whose ages range from 21 months to 3 years (maternal) and 3 – 7 years (preschool). We teach them in a playful way, by means of color association, in the areas of rhythmic band and xylophone, as well as the identification of their own bodies as the first instrument. When children are 4 years and half they can read a score”, Hidalgo explains.
The children included in the New Members program learn by playing and associating colors.
The afternoon session receives children older than 9 (there are 800 students at the moment), who are taught musical theory. “We teach them how the melody is shaped; they listen to different rhythms and work on a Venezuelan folklore repertoires as an introduction to the rhythmic and orchestral analysis.”
As students grow up, the teachers increase the amount of lesson hours and pupils’ orientation is narrowed down according to their preferences and skills. “unknowingly children are learning, the program takes them by the hand throughout the study of xylophone, rhythmic band, music initiation, low strings, A orchestra and B orchestra, flute and choir, depending on the progress and interest of the kid”, the director of Simón Rodríguez circle explains.
The 58 professors that make up this circle assert that with this education program “children are as normal as the rest, but they become all-embracing musicians when standing in front of a score.”
Music for Everybody
The System’s integration philosophy has favored coexistence of children and teenagers. Leonardo Méndez, national coordinator of Social Integration, explains the scope of these programs that go beyond the official sessions. “New Members program was launched back in 2012 when we realized that we were wasting time while waiting for children to join The System. So we visited 6 hospitals to include newborns, who received their first academic activity: a live concert with the consent of their parents. We found out that children relax with music and develop their basic functions, like sucking. In other cases with interacted with children that were at the intensive care unit, with mothers that were about to give birth and we event played music during the labor process. We teach how to educate since the very beginning”, he says.
The program includes activities once a month in an effort to join both family and orchestra. The Special Attention program benefits children and adolescents throughout the country. “By means of music, used as a tool to develop potential and social inclusion, these people can tell the whole world that they exist”, Méndez points out.
The program began by working with 16 children that featured learning problems and 12 with visual deficit. Nowadays, over 2,500 children and adolescents are taught by some 100 professors and specialized instructors. This program includes autistic, Down syndrome and deaf and blind children, as well as adults that are losing their sight and hearing, who are given support and taught how to play musical instruments.
The hospital program, also created in 2012, takes music to therapeutically help sick children and teenagers. “Children love music and those who can’t even stand, because of spine problems, are taught to play four instruments on their bed”, Leonardo Méndez underscores.
The environment plays a leading role in those activities: doctors, nurses and relatives also participate. “There are doctors that play music for their ICU patients or mothers that decide to participate in the concert, just like what happened last year when a girl was affected by the chemotherapy and couldn’t play”, he relates.
The World Copies the System
Ron Davis Álvarez, International Relations coordinator with The System, has been in charge of taking the academic education programs to such remote places as Greenland. “I visited an orphanage in Uummannaq in 2011, where I joined thirteen musicians in one week. When I returned to Venezuela, Master Abreu told me that music is to be taken to all those places where it isn’t expected, so I went back there”, he recalls.
Álvarez shows that passion and vocation featured by all the members of The System. He thinks that the secret to obtain such positive international results is related to the combination of the philosophic structure of social integration, by means of The System’s music, the idiosyncrasy and traditions of each place. “There are some 120 programs inspired by The System in 50 countries, which merge our educational approach and values with their cultural characteristics”, he details.
“With forty years of experience, The System is always discovering new elements; that’s the reason why, before saying no, we give a smile that lasts forever.”
From the Orchestra Conductor’s Point of View
“Venezuelan directors are internationally acclaimed because The System has given us impeccable education in terms of orchestration”, Joshua Dos Santos asserts.
He studied cello and, at the age of 14, he played with the Symphonic Orchestra of Carabobo (the most important one in this Venezuelan state). That was when he joined Venezuela’s National Children Orchestra, where he claims to have been given the most spectacular education in the country.
His aspirations as a conductor were soon materialized, although he thought it was impossible because all conductors were older. “When I saw that Gustavo (Dudamel) went from playing with us to the podium, I told myself: you can do it”.
Joshua Dos Santos is 30 years old; he has already conducted several orchestras around the world and works as assistant conductor with Dudamel.
His main strength is based on the skill to easily conduct works from different periods. “I love combining repertoires. For a concert to be successful, you cannot only think about the conductor, orchestra or the audience. You have to combine the personality of musicians with everything you want to do and the audience’s preferences”, he explains.
From his point of view, thanks to Maestro Abreu “Venezuela is praised around the world. The System establishes international musical guidelines.”
The System in Notes
Over 600 thousand children and teenagers are presently trained in 400 circles and 1,340 modules throughout Venezuela, with the special guidance of some 8,900 professors, teachers and instructors.
372 children and junior choirs; 1,210 junior, children and pre-children orchestras and 15 programs aimed at indigenous communities make up the structure created by Maestro Abreu.
14 Special Education programs have been developed over 40 years.
1,600 pregnant women, fathers, babies and children (ages 1 – 3) have participated in the New Members program.
270 thousand hours of academic instruction have been given through the Penitentiary Academic Program.
2,443 citizens joined the Penitentiary Symphonic Orchestras Program in 2014.