For the third year in succession we have come to a very special moment in the year … the moment when the Abreu Fellow’s actually hit – not town – but the country of Venezuela.
Families in Montalbán, Caracas, at a concert produced for this year’s Abreu Fellows.
Abreu Fellow Julie Davis coaches a young Sistema violinist in a Barquisimeto nucleo.
The Abreu Fellows Programme, brainchild of Mark Churchill and run through the New England Conservatory, is a highly imaginative and idealistic one year programme allowing annual intakes of a small number of eager students to learn in immersive depth about Venezuela’s Sistema. And so far there’s no doubt: they are already becoming some of tomorrow’s more influential Sistema leaders. Many of the first two years’ groups are now running Sistemas; thinking and writing about the state of El Sistema around the world (sometimes even quite provocatively); collecting and evaluating data; and generally beating the drum for this extraordinary movement. The Programme is already looking like a great way to go about the future for El Sistema in the US. Now they just need the money to keep it going.
And this month, the current batch of Fellows have just got to that hallowed moment in the year when they actually get to travel to Venezuela, back to the movement’s ‘motherland’ to see El Sistema in action where it all began. Many people reading this will probably not realise quite how sick with excitement the Fellows will be about this opportunity: it’s like a sportsman or women getting to compete at the Olympics, or a soloist finally getting on stage at Carnegie or Lincoln Center, and all for the first time. This is the moment when the astronaut actually gets to walk on the moon.
Yes, we know, El Sistema get-togethers can sometimes have the feeling of a revivalist cult, and the excitement and hype surrounding it can put all sorts of otherwise sane people off, but believe me, when you’re in Venezuela, you get it. Big time. And I’ve yet to meet anyone who hasn’t. To begin with there’s the backdrop of that humongous tropical vibrancy; all flamboyant hot colours and undentable enthusiasm coming at you from every angle. And the commitment and curiosity from thousands of young musicians from the Andes to the Atlantic who give you their respect as well as their best performance simply because you’ve just walked into the room to listen to them. Welcome to Latin-land. It’s powerful stuff. And as a bright new Abreu Fellow, it becomes the glue that keeps your aspirations together, not just in the days, but also in the years ahead.
So here are a few blogs and You Tubes from the Fellows, as they move around the country. Expect a lot of gushing, bucket loads of emotion, romanticism, optimism, and reminders (if you are over 30) of ways you used to be before you grew up and got that little bit quieter. The sound of these posts is unmistakable, if admittedly somewhat clichéd: it’s the idealistic sound of tomorrow being constructed today. Hopefully it’s contagious. So enjoy it, and don’t forget to think about it when you hit that rather boring office meeting next week. As for me I should be in Caracas next week this time where I’ll be getting my own spring jab of this seemingly chaotic but endlessly motivating enthusiasm.