The Ensemble seeks to connect and inform all people who are committed to ensemble music education for youth empowerment and social change.
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From the Editor
Many of us know by heart this quote from José Antonio Abreu’s televised TED talk in 2009: “Orchestra and chorus are much more than artistic structures; they are schools of social life, because to play and sing together means to intimately coexist toward perfection and excellence.”
That last phrase was so startlingly beautiful that it changed my life—as it may have yours, if you, like me, had never considered that intimate coexistence could be channeled TOWARD something…and that the something could be art.
The trouble with this Eureka moment is that in practice, it’s very hard to get a student orchestra to look or act anything like peaceful intimate coexistence toward perfection. We count ourselves lucky if we can keep bow fights from breaking out among the second violins. When the notes are hard, the music is unfamiliar and it’s almost dinnertime, rehearsal can feel less like a school of social life than like a supervised recess.
And yet. Those of us who have been lucky enough to observe Latin American Sistema orchestras know that they often do, in fact, look like successful schools for social life. Pairs of kids at music stands taking turns with the single available instrument…older kids mentoring younger ones; young kids swaying like their mentors… How is it possible that the structures of cooperation are more easily achieved in those cultures than in our own? Perhaps it’s because in Latin American cultures, “the orchestra” still stands for privilege, so it’s more likely to be valued than in our culture, where kids tend to think of orchestras as antiquated rather than as icons of prestige.
Here’s something else Maestro Abreu said in that TED talk: “The orchestras prove to be the creative spaces of culture –the spaces of exchanges and new meanings.” This quote is less familiar to us, but perhaps more relevant. If our students can experience their orchestras as the creative spaces of their culture, where new meanings are explored and shared, they will be highly motivated to try coexistence toward excellence in those spaces. Many U.S./Canadian Sistema programs are already experimenting in this direction, making changes in repertoire, rehearsal process and performance to give kids a greater sense of meaning-making. Moving in this direction isn’t “un-Sistema”. You heard it from the Maestro.