Save the Children or Save the Music: Venezuela’s El Sistema as Syncretic Aesthetic and Pedagogical Export [full paper]

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Date
2011-10
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Latin American Music Center
Abstract
El Sistema defines itself as a “Venezuelan government social institution for the systematization of instruction and collective practice of orchestral and choral music as instruments of social organization and community development.” The program trains mostly poor children throughout their elementary and secondary education. Some will ultimately join the famous Simón Bolívar Youth Orchestra, and a handful, such as conductor Gustavo Dudamel, might become world-renown musicians. Founder José Antonio Abreu emphasizes the social objectives of the program and exhibits a keen consciousness of the versatile nature of Latin America’s modernity and the program’s adaptability and mutability. On the other hand, Abreu’s belief in the “unique” power of music to “transform” echoes Romantic ideologies specifically exemplified in Lisztian philosophy. In short, the program’s history, documentaries, and performances, reflect an aesthetic negotiation between European musical mythology and Venezuelan socio-artistic identity; the resulting entity both nurtures the “classical” canon and challenges it through the inclusion of Latin-American composers and adapted popular dances. Foreign musicians and media, nevertheless, appear to understate the social and musical syncretic potential of the El Sistema phenomenon, emphasizing instead the program as “the future of classical music.” Upon this dualistic foundation, Mark Churchill (of the New England Conservatory) now attempts to build El Sistema USA. This paper will scrutinize the complex aesthetics of El Sistema and its transplantation as a pedagogical model to the U.S. Such scrutiny affords us an opportunity to explore current mythologies of “classical music” and El Sistema’s potential to preserve them or mutate them.
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Cultural, Conferencia, Cultural Counterpoints, Interactions, Latin America, Latin American Music Center, Music, Musical, Música, Música Latinoamericana, United States, Fiftieth Anniversary, 50th anniversary, Venezuela, El Sistema, Simón Bolívar Youth Orchestra, José Antonio Abreu
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