Rebecca, David and I with the White Hands Choir, made up of a group that signs and a group that sings.
These past two weeks, our team visited the nucleo of Barquisimeto, the same center where Gustavo Dudamel first learned how to play the violin (an accomplishment this musical community is very proud of evident by the huge Dudamel banners hanging from the nucleo's walls). But Dudamel is just one source of their pride: Barquisimeto boasts nine orchestras, nine choirs - from toddler to adult - and a special needs program that was piloted here before spreading nationally to 19 nucleos with 19 more on the way.
When I asked Alfredo D'Addona, the nucleo director of Barquisimeto, "What's the most important thing you would want people to know about this nucleo?" his immediate response was, "Heart. It's about heart." His words embody so much of what we've seen and heard not only in Barquisimeto, but in all of the nucleos during our travels throughout Venezuela.
It's impossible for me to do justice to this concept of "heart" in words, so I hope you'll watch this short 4-minute video dedicated to Alfredo D'Addona and the staff, students and parents of the Barquisimeto nucleo. I highlighted many of the special needs programs, but specifically tried to capture the heart of this nucleo with surprise footage at the end. The rest of the blog gives more details into the incredible work Barquisimeto is doing. Thank you, Barquisimeto, for opening your doors and hearts to the Abreu Fellows.
Barquisimeto's Special Needs Program offers a wide range of musical opportunities including percussion ensembles and piano lessons, bell choirs and an a cappella quintet. They also run a braille printing service that translates everything from Harry Potter to Beethoven's Fifth Symphony for its students and even takes international requests. What's wonderful about these programs is that they are fully integrated, creating an atmosphere of inclusion throughout the building. In each ensemble, a team of teachers works together, modeling the power and joy of collaboration for their students. For example, Naybeth and Luis lead the two choruses that make up the White Hands Choir. While Naybeth and the young people with hearing impairments "sing" through sign language, Luis conducts the voices of students who are sight-impaired or have cognitive or physical disabilities. However, in the spirit of true integration, there are also students without any disabilities in both groups.
With Dudamel as the backdrop, Rebecca and Jamie Bernstein talk to Daniel, a student at the Barquisimeto nucleo.
The Baby Choir warms-up singing solfege along with hand signs.
Gabriel demonstrates how he writes his music theory homework in Braille, punching hole by hole.
It's All In the Family: Many of Barquisimeto's teachers and staff grew up together in El Sistema, playing side-by-side in the orchestra as children. The feel of the nucleo, like many we have seen, is one of a big, happy family. Today as administrators and teachers, they remain close friends (some married to one another) and have a shared experience that provides a clear, unified vision for their work. Many also continue to play, striking what can be a difficult balance between being a musician and working as an administrator. For example, Alfredo can be found most mornings rehearsing with the Lara Symphony Orchestra, which prepares a weekly Thursday night concert. Conveniently, the rehearsal space is located at the nucleo, so after packing up his trumpet, Alfredo can walk across the parking lot and begin his administrative work before teaching in the afternoon and evening.
Alfredo D'Addona stands outside the nucleo with the Abreu Fellows.
(below his wife, Libia, conducts the Symphonic Choir)
Partnerships: Barquisimeto is unique in that the nucleo shares its building with the Conservatory. With over 3,000 students attending the nucleo alone, space is limited. The inside courtyard handles the overflow beautifully and brims with musical activity in every corner. On Fridays, there is no symphony rehearsal because most of the players teach at the nucleo or conservatory. That teaching time is generally reserved for the highest-level students, many of whom travel from outlying areas to learn techniques that they can share with the less advanced students in their home orchestra.
The inside courtyard of Barquisimeto nucleo
A cello sectional takes place in the reception area of the nucleo.
A percussion teacher holds an individual lesson in one of the corners of the courtyard.
On our last day, as we were finishing up our last meeting, we heard the sounds of an orchestra tuning up. As we followed the sounds outside, we saw crowds gathering in front of a chorus made up of children and their parents. We had no idea that the nucleo was preparing for the arrival of its city's patron saint. But before long, the procession showed up, led by La Divina Pastora herself. As I looked around at the musicians mixed in with the community members, I thought about the impact that Alfredo and his "family" have had on their city and feel grateful to have been a part of this nucleo for two weeks. Muchas gracias para todo!
Outside the nucleo, the orchestra and choirs prepare for the processional of Barquisimeto's patron saint, La Divina Pastora.