Saturday, October 10, 2009

What are you doing in Boston?!!!

So that is the question I have had trouble answering in under 10 minutes all summer long! Here then is how I ended up in Beantown and what I'm doing here.

In May 2009 I was still considering pursuing a Doctor of Musical Arts in bassoon performance at a couple of schools in the USA. I just wasn't sure if I could get enough funds to do it. So I waited.

I was hanging out in my hometown (Ottawa) doing...well...nothing, when I got an email from Sue Heineman, the principal bassoonist of the National Symphony Orchestra in Washington D.C. It was about the Abreu Fellows Program at the New England Conservatory. I had been looking for this kind of program for a while. In fact, in all my doctorate application essays I had mentioned the Venezuelan youth education program El Sistema, saying it would be great to have something similar in the USA and Canada (I am Canadian). So here I was, looking at a brand new program that did exactly that. I couldn't believe my luck. From the El Sistema USA website:

"… the first initiative of el Sistema USA — a one-year postgraduate certificate program for accomplished young musicians who desire to become ambassadors of El Sistema and who are committed to developing it outside of Venezuela. Housed at New England Conservatory, Abreu Fellows will spend a year studying between Boston and Caracas, and leave with the tools to return to their communities to teach the El Sistema model."

That was good enough for me. And so, here I am in Boston.

What is El Sistema? Started in 1975 by Jose Antonio Abreu, it is the common name given to the National System of Youth and Children's Orchestras of Venezuela. Government funded and using the symphony orchestra as their vehicle, they provide music education to kids of all backgrounds all over the country.

Watch this great video explaining how El Sistema got to Boston:

And now the why. Why I am I doing this program? I lock myself in a room for hours on end to be a bassoonist right? Well yes, that's true...but

Two reasons in particular made this program worth it for me: under-served youths and symphony orchestras. I've seen many concerts in North America with great orchestras, conductors and soloists but unfortunately there are often empty seats. It's become obvious to me, as I'm sure it has to many others, that more could be done to draw a more diverse and younger audience. How to do that?

Well how about we invest in our youth. Let's make music education accesible to all youths no matter where they're from. Let's make music education a right, not a privilege. This way youths can reap the benefits of music and hopefully when they're older they will become concert-goers, musicians, stage-hands, arts administrators, patrons and aficionados.

Through this program I was offered the chance to hopefully make a positive difference for under-served youths and symphony orchestras. It was difficult to turn down.

Now it's not all doom and gloom for the orchestra world! Besides the fact that symphony orchestras deliver a fantastic product, the El Sistema phenomenon has caught on all over the world and youth orchestra programs often targeting under-served communities are already up and running in Los Angeles, Miami, Baltimore, New York City, Ottawa and more. I simply hope to help continue the trend.

To see the possibilities watch the top youth orchestra in Venezuela perform Leonard Bernstein's Mambo, led by Gustavo Dudamel, an El Sistema graduate and the new conductor of the Los Angeles Philharmonic:

Not too shabby eh/huh?

I'll be blogging about my experiences all year, so please come back and feel free to participate by leaving comments and/or questions. I feel that this type of project benefits us all, so don't be shy!

Imagine a world with millions of kids playing music...

Thanks for reading.


  1. Man Dantes, I can't wait to read more about your experiences! Really, it sounds amazing. I can't say it enough, I'm so proud to know you!


  2. um... i'm teary-eyed!
    dantès, shit, this sounds awesome. the project itself is cool, but it's your dedication that's really getting to me! and at the risk of sounding like a high school english teacher (heyo groves-st-jacques!), you are so eloquent! what a pleasure to read!
    can't wait to read more.
    take care!


    ps - love the "eh/huh"!

  3. sup buddy,

    nice blogs man, theyre really nice to read. i wish we would have played mambo in would have made my experience so much better. anywho, it looks like you're doin really well. I'm really happy for you buddy!just dont come back a bruins fan


    ps. go change the keiths

  4. I don't know how this works for a bassoonist but when I watch the El Systema orchestras they are not only large but they move together like an ocean. Its like the difference between the way Pentecostals and Presbyterians sit or don't sit in church. I don't always see that happening with other Venezuelan or Latin American orchestras. So I have to ask what is it they are doing in the educational process that allows that to happen?

  5. Hi sasuzukistrings,

    Thanks for reading! From what our guests (many of whom have spent quite some time in Venezuela) at the Abreu Fellows Program tell us, the kids in El Sistema Venezuela orchestras are encouraged to move when they play their instruments. I'm also told that if you watch videos of their orchestras from 10 or 15 years ago, they don't move nearly as much. Therefore it seems that teachers consciously encourage their students - from a very young age - to move around and enjoy the music, so long as it doesn't impede their playing of course. Fun is a big part of El Sistema and moving as you play can definitely add an element of freedom and enjoyment. Also, from what I've noticed the orchestras seem to do some choreograhped movements in certain pieces, such as Leonard Bernstein's Mambo, so it's not all ad lib. But however it's done I think it looks great! Hope that somewhat answers your question.