Tocar Y Luchar

Once again, I have been deeply moved and inspired by the work of Jose Antonio Abreu and the Youth Orchestra of Venezuela. Last night, after the Anne-Sophie Mutter all-Brahms recital at Davies Symphony Hall (more on that in a separate post), I purchased the documentary film DVD entitled, Tocar Y Luchar” (To Play and To Fight). This is the motto of the Youth Orchestra of Venezuela – that to play music, or to create anything of meaning to the soul, you must also be prepared to fight for it. The tagline on the DVD reads, “…only those who dream achieve the impossible.”

I just finished watching the 70-minute film, and plan to transcribe some of Abreu’s words for you here later. He believes deeply in the power of music to transform individuals from the inside, and, through the group experience of this in orchestras, to transform the listeners as well. He envisions a Venezuela in which every town, no matter how small, has a choir and an orchestra. “This is not the 22nd or the 23rd century,” he said. “This is eternity.”

Several things were made apparent to me about Venezuela from this film:

  • this is a close-knit society, in which families depend on each other for survival
  • people are not used to things coming easily, so they accept that they need to work for everything they will get
  • after three decades of this system of national musical education as social development, it is ingrained in the culture completely, and every child is born expecting to be part of some musical experience during their life (there is even a special education division, with musical groups devoted to children with hearing or vision deficits, cognitive deficits, autism, and other physical disabilities)
  • the level of technique and artistry among all the children is extremely high, meaning that there is an incredible group of dedicated teachers with a unified style and sound
  • there is a seriousness in each child’s pursuit of “perfection” in order to integrate into the groups, which are all playing at the highest level
  • from the very first rehearsal back in the 1970’s, the vision from the founder was that the world would be the stage for this group (at the first rehearsal, 11 people showed up; now there are over 240,000 children involved across Venezuela); their aspirations were set very high, and these founding members feel a responsibility to pass on these important lessons to the next generation

Abreu imagined the orchestra as a vehicle for socialization of individuals – bringing many together under one unified purpose and agreement of spirits. This film carries on the powerful message that I experienced live back in November at Davies. Someday I hope to visit Venezuela and feel the air in which all this music lives and breathes among the people. I suspect that, despite their external conditions of poverty, they have an inner life of connection and richness that cannot be captured in economic terms.

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