Sunday, April 4, 2010

Week 22: Barquisimeto Nucleo - It's About Heart

 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.


  1. Oh Lorrie:

    That video was infectious. My heart is so high in my throat it is under my tong and my eyes are filling with tears. I wish we could capture that enthusiasm and spray it around our Center in Orange County this Spring. I think it would amplify the inspiration of our families at OCCTAC, knowing that they have sister communities in Latin America who have so much at state, able to to raise their abilities to such a high level in the face of so many challenges.
    Economically, the next few years in California look fearsome. I find myself remembering when South Central went up in flames in 92' with frustration. Unemployment in the economically challenged communities of CA may be as high as 3o% or more before it is all over. Do you realize the significance of having your Symposium here in Los Angeles in May 2010?
    We are going to need every ounce of that sacred commodity called hope that each one of you can bring back with you. I wish that we could kidnap a few of you for a day so that you could recharge our community batteries in OC with some of that Venezuelan solar power that your hearts seem to be running on.

    Daniel Pink came through last month and did his book lecture for the business and education community, which is everywhere on YouTube. (He has it so well memorized). The seminars afterward were filled with educators trying to strategize their next employment opportunities when CA cuts them from the budget. They are so late behind the ball. Prophesy is already history when CA engineers are job hunting in India. As Pink predicted America is facing a world of hurt.
    When all of you get here we should talk about how to mobilize unemployed underused talent. I stood up in front of the panel and invited them to volunteer any technologist who are stuck on the left side of their brains from doing to much R and D for their corporations. We know how to fix that kind of brain block. I have kids who have never met an engineer and need a talented lab rat willing to lend their ears and encouragement at least once a week. Who knows they might get inspired to pick up their own instruments again. I think after a few semesters volunteering with our kids we can make some significant social, neurological and economic transformation possible in America.

  2. Lorrie,
    I am originally from Venezuela and I have been an advocate and fan of El Sistema for many years. And still, I read your story about what you have seen and visited in my native land and I am crying like a baby. Thank you for your recount of your adventures throughout Venezuela as an Abreu Fellow. I am very happy to know you will be the new FESNOJIV Ambassador in Juneau. I wish you success and I hope to hear of the founding of Nucleos in Alaska...

  3. Mariatrina,

    Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts with me. It means a lot to hear that someone from Venezuela feels I am representing well the incredible work that FESNOJIV is doing for its youth through music. I'm excited to begin the northernmost initiative in Alaska. Thank you again!