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The horn section of the top orchestra of Barquisimento plays Mahler 5. The fourth horn has only been playing for a couple of years!

I’ve learned the importance of discipline and the power of mere repetition. I’ve seen how music truly can be a right for all and not a privilege for the very few. I’ve seen the dedication and alignment all ES teachers have there. I’ve also learned the “a la orden” mentality (to your request) of truly wanting to genuinely help in anyway possible. I’ve learned things I didn’t anticipate such as how to read musicography (Braille music). – Sara Zanussi

I learned about myself as a musician and as a person. In Sistema culture, the lines between practice, rehearsal, teaching and performing are much less defined. There were many times when I would sit down to practice but ended up performing, or when I expected to perform but ended up teaching. I realized how these are all just different forms of making and interacting with music, but at their core express the same thing – myself and those who are there to enjoy the process with me. – Andrea Landin

In Caracas and Barquismento, we met students with a range of goals; there were students who were really interested in concentrating on music, some with dreams of coming to NEC, and we met students

Curious flute players interview Fellow Carlos Roldan at Nucleo Sarria in Caracas, Venezuela

who just liked playing with their friends and to grow up to become doctors, lawyers and music teachers. All of them shared the same vision of Maestro Antonio Abreu: To help children young and old to reach their full potential and acquire values that flavor their growth and have a positive impact on their lives in society. –Xóchitl Tafoya

I have learned what it truly means to share and give. Everyone we met who is part of El Sistema had such big hearts, and it was evident that they do this work because they love it and it gives them joy. I learned about the importance of having a vision, purpose and about being very intentional in everything we do. I saw many people who give their lives to this work, and this inspired me.  –Monique Van Willingh



A mural of Gustavo Dudamel at Barquisimento Conservatory, the school that Dudamel attended as a young boy before he left at age 12 to study in Caracas.

I think sometimes we in the El Sistema field get so caught up in social change and how to manifest that that we forget the whole point of why we’re there: to create musical excellence. It is through THAT as the foundation where social change can transpire. From now on, I will have musical excellence as the goal and not underestimate repetition and discipline as important tenets to make that happen; I hope from that excellence that social change occurs naturally, rather than something about which we preach. – Sara Zanussi

I saw teachers who were able to strike an amazing balance between supporting their students and expecting excellence from them. One of the nucleo leaders said that there is no limit to what children are capable of, but teachers often place this limit on children because they do not believe that children can achieve.The experiences we had with the teachers, parents and students from every nucleo—so many people whose lives are completely entwined in the vision, mission and essence of what it means to serve others– are imprinted on my heart as beautiful examples of the power of this work in the lives of those involved. Being in Venezuela and having the honour of meeting Maestro Jose Antonio Abreu has deepened and cemented my resolve to do this, and exponentially expanded my hope for the possibilities for my own country. -Monique Van Willingh



Every Venezuelan truly inspired me, even people outside the nucleo. Hearing about El Sistema from the

String students work with Fellow and conductor Diogo on the piece ‘Venezuela,’ dancing while they play to help them feel the waltz of this national folk song.

first year into the “middle years” gave me great perspective and showed me we CAN do this. We just have to remember that right now we’re comparing a four-year-old toddler (the US movement) to a 38-year-old adult (the Venezuelan movement). Hearing about El Sistema in its fledgling state gave me the understanding of how it was so successful and truly a “poco a poco” project. – Sara Zanussi

Elise and I met an old couple while we were waiting. They very proudly told us about their son, who has Down syndrome and plays in the percussion ensemble. He has been going to the nucleo for 11 years, where he started out in music literacy, moved to the choir, and now plays in the percussion ensemble. Before he came to the nucleo he could not speak, but because of the influence of music, he found his words.  -Monique Van Willingh

Percussion students work outside of Nucleo Sarria in Caracas. The students hold class outside because there is no space inside and the instruments are loud.

The people of Sistema Tamaka, located just outside Barquismento, made a music school with dirt roads, dirt floors, and an abandoned building. Why? Because to them, it’s all about the music. Their nucleo is filled with genuine, authentic people who know why they do what they do and love doing it daily.   -Xóchitl Tafoya

After a six-year-old told me he couldn’t afford English lessons at his school, I told him I’d give him a “regalito,” any word he wanted to learn in English. His choice? Dudamel. This shows the impact that Dudamel has had on his hometown, even in a six-year-old’s mind. I can’t think of any six-year-old in America who would choose a classical music director’s name if they could learn any word. – Sara Zanussi

Xóchitl Tafoya, Andrea Landin, Rachel Hockenberry, and Elaine Chang Sandoval pose with a horn student.

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