Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Week 16: La Rinconada: El Sistema's Oldest Nucleo

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.


  1. After all of the irrational arguments I have heard from American Violin teachers about why they don't want to use the box violin it warms my heart to be able to show my Santa Ana Suzuki parents a place in Latin America where students are using this method in mass to great success. It is going to be so much easier to teach when I can be backed up by this example.
    I have been a little careful to make the box violins myself with certain specifications because I wanted them to function well the purpose intended. We have been covering CrackerJack boxes and DVD boxes with wood pattern contact paper. (I'm always looking for things that parents already have in their homes.) One of the most important task associated with the pretend violin in my studio is to give students time to develop the balance and upper body skills for holding a violin on their shoulder with out fear of dropping the real violin. The small children are working so hard on their motor skills as they continue to listen to CDs and develop 'ear hand' skills. Isn't it interesting how these two activities work together in the development of the child.
    I wish I could be a mouse in your pocket about now. Do they have any video of these classroom activities or teachers speaking to parents. I would be so happy to have some parent talks for PreTwinkle violin in Spanish.

  2. This reminds me of how you had kids make their knitting needles. The pirde that students take in something that they craft themselves is worth the time and effort, teaching them to respect thier tools. Mela