For this post we had trouble deciding which of the character strengths it most illustrates. Our first thought was APPRECIATION OF BEAUTY AND EXCELLENCE. But the whole purpose behind this program is to create HOPE by offering a way out of poverty and despair. But then it also reflects FAIRNESS, because it grew out of a passion for social justice.
Read and listen and tell us which you think is the strongest candidate for the primary strength. Or perhaps you would suggest another strength on the list altogether? Let us know in a Comment and we’ll publish your opinion. (For a synopsis of the Character Strengths, go here.)
The beginnings of El Sistema are legendary now. In 1975, in a garage in Caracas, Venezuela, Jose Antonio Abreu met with eleven aspiring young Latin American musicians to share a vision and a plan.
He dreamed of giving the poor children of Venezuela a way to escape a life of grinding poverty, violence, and spiritual deadness. Believing deeply that the “the most holy of human rights is the right to art,” he planted the seeds of what has become an internationally recognized, rigorous educational program for musical excellence. He has been its “soul and guiding light” ever since.
He has described El Sistema‘s purpose this way: “We need to be messengers of the social mission of art,” adding, “I’ve dedicated all my efforts to have the poorest, the ones most excluded, have access to musical education.”
In 2008, when B’nai Brith Venezuela gave him their Human Rights Award, he summarized his life’s work in these heart-felt words: “In the struggle for Human Rights, let us vigorously incorporate children’s sublime right to music—let us reveal to our children the beauty of music, and music shall reveal to our children the beauty of life.”
The most spectacularly successful and famous product of the system is the charismatic young conductor Gustavo Dudamel. He is concurrently serving as music director of the Simon Bolivar Youth Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela–the top tier orchestral ensemble of El Sistema’s 220 youth orchestras–and the Los Angeles Philharmonic. His musical leadership has had a long reach: in the last 5 years El Sistema has inspired similar programs elsewhere in the United States and around the world.
Dudamel describes El Sistema as a unique “social project” that has changed the way ordinary people see classical music: “Now more people have the chance to be close to the best music at the best level.” And when you attend a concert, as we did recently, and hear the consummate skill and polish of the youthful musicians performing a whole range of great music, you understand why prestigious labels like Deutsche Grammaphon are recording their work.
Enjoy this YouTube clip featuring Gustavo Dudamel conducting the Simon Bolivar Symphony Orchestra in a performance at the London Proms of Danzon no. 2 by the Mexican composer, Arturo Marquez (b. 1950) . The Cuban national dance since the late nineteenth century, the danzon has also been very popular in the Gulf Coast state of Vera Cruz as well as in Mexico City.
To follow along: The piece begins with a sensuous syncopated melody played by the clarinet. Notice also one of the characteristic Latin percussion instruments, the guiro, a notched gourd played with a stick. The oboe then picks up the melody, engages in a beautiful duet with the clarinet, after which the strings join in. There are two contrasting uptempo sections, much in a driving mambo rhythm. The result is a refrain structure to the whole: A-B- A- C-A- B- -Coda.
Guided by the countdown on the bottom of your screen, you should find that the starting points of each of these sections occur as follows:
3:19 return of A very briefly
4:21 A recalled with reduced string sound, then much fuller sound at 5:14
6:35 return of B, with trumpets dominant
7:24 Climactic coda with wrap-up of all themes
If you focus your attention to really hear this as it happens–it may take more than one listening–you will be doing your brain a favor. This is exactly what computer brain games teach you to do, and it’s a lot more interesting.