Being a Servant and an Artist

The Ensemble seeks to connect and inform all people who are committed to ensemble music education for youth empowerment and social change.

Being a Servant and an Artist

Kiana Maria Gonzalez, bassist, Take A Stand Festival Orchestra and El Sistema Lehigh Valley


The National Take a Stand Festival has ended, and 101 students are returning home to over 25 states, each with an intimate and personal experience. Here is the experience of just one of those 101.

During my week at the NTaSF, I worked closely with the team’s staff and with mentors at Soka University and at the American University preparatory school, exploring and refining the repertoire for the final concert. It was my first time working professionally with another group of talented bass players in tackling our section’s challenges in each piece. For me, it was refreshing not only to find other bass players around my age (most at my program are young enough to be my student), but also to experience so many distinct personalities outside the practice room. Playful and yet stern, realistic and yet quixotic, and with a sense of optimism that was touched with a determination like my own. Many times, when I stumbled within a piece l felt more at home with them; as with my family, there was no criticism, only productive solutions. Making me even more empowered to step up my game in this project!

But what made this experience even more worthwhile was that this was present in every other member of the orchestra that I had the opportunity to interact with. Everyone there had a beginning and was carrying with them a glimmering hope of achieving some sort of end goal, whether it was the performance, their future career, or friendship. All of this dynamic energy was present at every moment, both in and out of rehearsals. Being able to work with Thomas Wilkins, the conductor of the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra, for a long demanding week before finally being presented by Gustavo Dudamel has been such an honor. This orchestra demonstrated a persistence that other orchestras struggle for years to reach, and that we have achieved within a week — creating a warm community of different faces from different places to perform beyond the concept of musical excellence, to give the piece expression and life itself for the audience to truly connect with.

In the words of Maestro Wilkins, “We are first a servant and then an artist.” He deeply expressed that we must give in a world that only takes. Now, as we return home after the final concert, these words truly resonate even more.


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