Monthly Archives: October 2012

Seizing the moment for Africa

October 2012 – 541 words

The moment for action has arrived. Or rather for more action. With the successful entry of 22 projects in 18 countries into Sistema Europe throughout the first half of 2012, it is now time for another – and arguably much larger – challenge.  That challenge is Africa.  The method for meeting it will be the values, programmes and methodology of El Sistema, and the device for achieving it will be a new organization that launches today, Sistema Africa.

Over the last few years I have listened slowly but surely to a small but growing number of voices from around the continent – from the Mediterranean to the Indian Ocean to the heart of Africa and beyond – exploring ways to establish Sistema work in a substantial, effective, sustainable manner. During the last year virtual conversations have taken me to Uganda, Kenya, South Africa, Congo-Brazzaville, Congo-Kinshasa, Kenya, and beyond. There is a thirst, and a tremendous sense of desire to make something positive happen, and build sustainable help for young people through the vehicle of  music. Of course much is already going on, and there are many people who have been fighting the battle for some time. One of the challenges – as in Europe – will be to see how the wonderful pattern of activity that already exists will come together with any new or continuing Sistema projects. And as with Sistema Europe the stress will be on being an organisation that brings people together, assists the spread of good ideas and practice, and is generally helpful in an open non territorial welcoming manner.

As the first stage in assisting that process, I am working with Gabriel Prokofiev, who is already well known in Europe for his radical new classical music projects and who very successfully worked in Caracas with the Teresa Carreño Youth Orchestra of Venezuela in February 2012. Gabriel is now looking at establishing Sistema work in Congo-Brazzaville where he has been recently, and will be returning. He and I have founded Sistema Africa to bring together the already existing and ongoing Sistema ongoing projects as well as any inspirational leaders who want to begin their own Sistema journey.

Initially Sistema Africa will exist simply as a Facebook Page – see for where this currently exists –  in order to become a friend, announce any work that you are doing, and network with your contacts to spread the word. I am sure that initiatives like Glen Thomas’ Sistema Global will also help the process. My gut feeling is that unlike in other places in the world where El Sistema is developing, the first priority will be to establish a linked conversation by people who share values, practice and common challenges. Linking together will I am sure be the number one priority. Later on the form of Sistema Africa will develop in ways that we can probably not imagine just now, but will be described by the journey it happens to take. As the Venezuelans say, the planning is the doing. At some point it will need to be a place where money can be raised and lobbying achieved. Let’s see where this takes us. For now welcome to anyone who wants to join this new bold audacious initiative, to anyone who wants to seize the moment for Africa.

New kid on the Sistema block

October 2012 – 765 words

My last blog focused on the view that 2012 will come to be seen as a watershed year for the internationalisation of El Sistema. If true, that will no doubt be due in part to the goings on of a new kid on the Sistema block, Sistema Europe. Sistema Europe was formed a few months ago in February 2012 at the LA Take a Stand conference (thank you LA Phil and the US Sistemas for your catalysing influence). Growing from a single thought, it became, at its meeting last week in Vienna, a really Pan European project. And such is the speed of it all that the website does not yet probably tell you what I can: that Armenia, Austria, Bosnia, The Czech Republic, Denmark, England, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Norway, Portugal, Scotland, Slovakia, Sweden, Switzerland and Turkey are member countries with some 22 Sistemas delivering Sistema inspired practice to around 10,000 children and young people. And by next week it will have grown further.

Some of the members at last week’s Sistema Europe meeting, including guests Bruno Campo, Director of the Gautemalan Sistema, and Florian Wiegand of the Salzburg Festival.

What’s fascinating is the different form that the work is taking in all these countries. In the last few months In Harmony Sistema England took a big step forward when the number of In Harmony Sistema centres doubled from 3 to 6 thanks to a combined grant from the UK Department of Education and Arts Council England, and Sistema Norwich is a second England organisation that has entered the field. North of the border Big Noise has just announced a second centre in Glasgow to add to the hugely successful Raploch scheme. So in a matter of months the UK has 9 rather than 4 centres, and that is without counting projects like London Music Masters’ the Bridge, and the Music First project. At the other end of the scale Anna Mikaelian Meschian recently created Sistema Armenia, building from nothing, with a series of partnerships with The American University of Armenia, LUYS Foundation, a local music school, an art school, the Armenian Philharmonic Orchestra and a sizeable number of individuals from inside and outside of Armenia, who have all committed to bringing El Sistema to Armenia. And it will happen, in this case, with the support and help of Sistema Europe.

And so it goes on. Superar Austria, hosted last week’s meeting in Vienna on the occasion of one of the Youth Orchestra of Caracas’ recent Vienna concerts (really, you had to see this city youth orchestra take one of the most sophisticated and critical classical music centres in the world by storm: picture below). This included a tour round Superar’s new centre in the 10th. district of Vienna in the inspiring spaces of its Atleier 10, an open and free arts space in an old bread factory in one of Vienna’s least affluent areas. it reminded me of one of Maestro Abreu’s many maxims: ‘for the least advantaged in society, the best and highest quality of resources’. This place is extraordinary, and when finished my bet is that it will be the envy of even the bastion groups in Vienna, the Vienna Philharmonic and the Opera!

Superar host Werner Binnenstein-Bachstein shows some of us around Atelier 10, Superar Austria’s new Vienna facility.

The meeting in Vienna heard some moving stories about the formation of Sistema projects in places like Bosnia, Slovakia, Czech Republic and Turkey, from the generosity of a man in Istanbul buying piano accordions for a new group out of his own pocket, to the challenges for the Roma people in a number of European countries, and the need of a place like Srebrenica to be known for something more positive than genocide.

Everyone clearly enjoying lessons in Srebrenica

Everyone clearly enjoying lessons in Srebrenica

The Caracas Youth Orchestra, having shown the Viennese how to play a Strauss encore in Vienna’s Konzerthaus.

In Europe the Sistema movement is building on some powerful cultural identities and as well as large dollops of history, some of which needs to be embraced and celebrated, and some of which needs to be strongly rejected, if not however, forgotten. And in all of this, El Sistema and its Venezuelan root represents a set of values and a form of being which is reaping unbelievable prizes for the less fortunate in our rich yet remarkably unequal societies. Every time Sistema Europe meets I am impressed and moved by the deep humanity of its members. We are lucky here to have such a group. So far the new kid on the block is doing well. For which much thanks.