For the next couple of days, the Abreu Fellows will be visiting La Rinconada Nucleo, which is located in the southern part of Caracas and was the first nucleo established by El Sistema in the 1970's. La Rinconada emphasizes early childhood programs, including one for toddlers and moms and a percussion class for children with special needs.
When we arrived, a group of 4-year old children had just moved from the Paper Orchestra to playing a real stringed instrument. All of the fellows are fascinated by the Paper Orchestra concept. These beautifully homemade instruments are created by the child and parent to help develop respect, care and discipline for the stringed instrument that the child will eventually play. The paper instruments also allows kids to safely practice motor skills needed for bowing and handling, before the real instrument is placed in their hands. Students make the instruments at home with their parents for one month and then play them at the nucleo for two months leading up to a final performance. Then they are ready to move on to the real thing!
Much of the pedagogy at La Rinconada developed out of practical need and trial and error. The talented teachers here constantly create and revise their teaching practice to meet the needs of their children, many who come from the outlying barrios. In fact the Paper Orchestra concept was born out of just such a practical need: after waiting months for the real instruments to arrive, the paper orchestra was created to get instruments into the hands of eagerly awaiting children.
I had a chance to observe two classes of musicianship for 3 and 4 year olds. Movement and percussion instruments were built in to each song, with deliberate moments of silence, "rest position" and taking turns to develop discipline, focus and listening skills. One of the teachers explained that the primary goal of these musicianship classes is to develop discipline. After hearing from some of the fellows how unbelievably focused the 6 - 9 year old students were during an hour and a half orchestra rehearsal next door, I believe the teachers are accomplishing their goal.
Here is a short documentary from Michael Uy who worked at La Rinconada for two weeks in 2008. He shares his experiences there and provides a wonderful summary and visual backdrop to this inspiring place.