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Editorial: May 2020
Jose Luis Hernandez, Founder/Director, Sistema Tulsa, OK
We are living in a moment of unprecedented anxiety. Those of us who know and teach the musical arts as means of expression have been busy trying to summon music’s healing powers. We know instinctively that music is the place we must go to and invite people into, to be soothed and comforted. It is one of our spiritual practices. Leonard Bernstein wrote about this at another time when our nation mourned, after the 1963 assassination of President Kennedy: “We must make music more devotedly, more intensely, than ever before,” he said. This time is different. The context in which we are to make music has changed. We have been challenged to deal with the fact that our healing business must be conducted on the Internet.
I recently heard the famed theologian Cynthia Rigby speak about how the full and physical presence of ourselves is essential to the feeling of wholeness in religious experiences. This has resonated with me as I try to make sense of the enormous task of connecting through music readily and authentically in a COVID-19-ridden world. We humans are not wired to sustain unusual levels of separation. The task of realizing a nuanced musical community in an online setting can feel bizarre.
I don’t mean to undermine our efforts to teach or perform music virtually; this form of communication is here to stay. We know there have been moments of deep connection and understanding in our El Sistema-inspired Internet lessons. We have not tried to deliver a perfect experience or product. Instead, we are being creative and resourceful, connecting and making our students feel recognized and inspired to sing and play their music at home.
Dr. José Antonio Abreu, the father of El Sistema, often spoke about the need to make people feel included, saying that our mission is not just about teaching music but also about learning how to coexist in a spirit of hope and solidarity toward one another. The more I think about this, the more I know, deep down, that we absolutely need to be together making music again. Breathing in time and playing side by side are joys we may have taken for granted for far too long. So, when we can come back and be truly together again in music, let’s remember to play with more feeling and gratitude for the gift of being able to present the fullness of ourselves to one another.