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Saturday Art: El Sistema and Venezuela’s Artistic and Educational Renaissance

10:08 am in Uncategorized by EdwardTeller

Venezuela, the country that opened its door yesterday (Friday, July 5th) to American whistleblower and fugitive, Edward Snowden, possesses what many regard as the finest musical education infrastructure in the world.  More than any other aspect of Venezuela’s international goodwill gestures, young musicians participating in what has become known as “El Sistema” aurally demonstrate to concert audiences worldwide what enthusiastic young musicians can accomplish.

Ask any young American kid who performs in a metropolitan youth symphony if she or he has heard of the Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra, you’re likely to get “Yes!” as your reply.  It is the traveling showcase of El Sistema.  Here’s a sample of their performance art, rendering an orchestration of the South American popular song, Alma Llanera, at a London Proms Concert, in 2007:

This orchestra is the premiere ensemble of an educational network that is surprisingly large, and growing:

El Sistema is a state foundation which watches over Venezuela’s 125 youth orchestras and the instrumental training programmes which make them possible. The organization has 31 symphony orchestras, and between 310,000 to 370,000 children attend its music schools around the country. 70 to 90 percent of the students come from poor socio-economic backgrounds.

The funding of El Sistema comes from government and private sources (emphases added):

On 6 June 2007, the Inter-American Development Bank announced the granting of a US$150 million loan for the construction of seven regional centers of El Sistema throughout Venezuela. Many bankers within the IDB originally objected to the loan on the grounds that classical music is for the elite. In fact, the bank has conducted studies on the more than two million young people who have been educated in El Sistema which link participation in the program to improvements in school attendance and declines in juvenile delinquency. Weighing such benefits as a falloff in school drop-out rates and a decline in crime, the bank calculated that every dollar invested in El Sistema was reaping about $1.68 in social dividends.

Supported by the government, El Sistema has started to introduce its music program into the public-school curriculum, aiming to be in every school and to support 500,000 children by 2015.

The project has been extended to the penal system. On 25 May 2008, Leidys Asuaje wrote for Venezuelan daily El Nacional: “The plan to humanize jails through music began eleven months ago under the tutelage of the Ministry of the Interior and Justice and FESNOJIV….”

El Sistema was created in 1975 by an economist (PhD in petroleum economics) who was also a pianist, José Antonio Abreu.  Through its 38 years of existence, El Sistema has educated millions of Venezuelans, and has served as a model for music education infrastructure in other countries, such as the UK and Portugal.  It has survived in Venezuela through both right-wing and left-wing governments.  In the USA, the Venezuelan model has been spread through the New England Conservatory of Music’s Abreu Fellowship Program:

These cover a wide geographical area ranging from KidZNotes in North Carolina, JAMM (Juno Alaska Music Matters) in that state, and ICAN (Incredible Children’s Art Network) in Santa Barbara, California.

One seldom or never reads of the success of El Sistema in American mainstream media, with its lack of interest in educational models from other countries that might help our kids.

Here is another Proms performance by Venezuela’s premiere youth orchestra.  I find this to be one of the best renditions of Dmitri Shostakovich’s 10th Symphony there is.  A group of kids, bringing more life to Shostakovich’s remarkable Farewell Good Riddance! to Josef Stalin than 90% of the USA’s adult symphony orchestras are capable of giving it:

Breaking: Venezuela’s President Offers Edward Snowden Political Asylum

4:28 pm in Uncategorized by EdwardTeller

Street Graffiti of Snowden

Will Edward Snowden be able to take refuge in Venezuela?

RT News and other – mostly Latin American – sources are reporting that Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has offered Edward Snowden political asylum in his country.  Reuters now has a story up in English:

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro said on Friday he had decided to offer asylum to former U.S. intelligence contractor Edward Snowden, who has petitioned several countries to avoid capture by Washington.

“I have decided to offer humanitarian asylum to the young American, Edward Snowden, so that in the fatherland of (Simon) Bolivar and (Hugo) Chavez, he can come and live away from the imperial North American persecution,” Maduro told a televised parade marking Venezuela’s independence day.

Snowden is believed to be holed up in the transit area of a Moscow international airport.

Now, how will they get him to Caracas safely?

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How To Deal With Wingnuts Ranting About That “Fucking Fascist Commie Chavez”

1:00 am in Uncategorized by EdwardTeller

WTBP 5-30-09 - NWO coat

I live in Wasilla, so have gotten used to dealing with wingnuts.

There didn’t used to be so many of them, but their women get pregnant early and often.  Many have families with over ten children.  Between the Alaska Permanent Fund Dividends (12 X $1,600), and state assistance for home schooling seven of the kids (7 X $2,700), a typical large wingnut Christianist family of twelve pulls in over $38,000 per year in tax-free state assistance, even if both mom and dad are working.  And they’re fixing to make it better for them, you betcha.

I call it evangelical welfare.

Today I’m in the waiting room at the local medical clinic, waiting to have the packing pulled out of a wound I’ve been dealing with.  The TV announces Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez’ demise.

People actually cheer.

The guy reading a year-old issue of Guns & Ammo in the chair next to me loudly mutters “Good riddance, you fucking commie fascist!”

He looks vaguely familiar – perhaps from one of the Tea Party events I’ve covered in Wasilla.

“Did he do something to you?” I ask.

“Didn’t you see Red Dawn?  That was about him!”

“The old version of the movie, or the new one?” I return.

“Whaddya mean, old – new?  It’s all the same.”

“OK.” I reply.  ”You don’t think he was a very good president, do you?”

“Fucking president!?  He was a goddam fucking dictator.  Do you know how many people he killed?”

“A lot?” I ask.

“You don’t know shit, do you?”  He’s trying to scope me out at this point.

“Maybe I don’t know as much as you do,” I retort, “but I speak Spanish and read articles in the Latin American press. Was Chavez worse than the guy he replaced?”


I reiterate, “Was Hugo Chavez worse than President Larrazabal?”

“Uh, Goddam right he was….”

“How about President Chalboud?”

“Did Chavez kill him too?” the guy asks.

“I doubt it.  But maybe al Qaeda killed Chalboud and Larrazabal, to make way for Chavez?  You wouldn’t put it past them, would you?”

“Hey!  I’m beginning to like you.”

Someone at the reception desk calls my name.  I get up and shake the hand of the Chavez critic.  ”Who do you think would be a good successor of Chavez for Americans?”

“What…..success … or.. what….?” he queries.

I finish with “Nice talking to you,” as I amble off to get my blood pressure taken.

Anyone have a similar story?

flickr  image by Philip Munger