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The Pasadena Seminario

Seats ready to be filled.

Following the dress rehearsal for Mahler’s 9th,  I had the chance to spend two hours observing the Pasadena Seminario featuring children from Santa Barbara’s ICAN Music Program, San Diego Youth Symphony’s Community Opus Project and Pasadena’s VYMA Music Project.  Approximately 65 children came from these three disparate nucleos with the goal of learning a new song and performing it for the assembled audience that same day.  This audience included LA Phil board members, El Sistema representatives and the children’s parents.  I walked into the room to the sound of well-played recorders:

It was their first day with this song, too!

The parents had a blast learning.

Next, Sam Chillingarian conducted a rehearsal of the new piece (Beethoven’s Ode to Joy) with the children listening and learning as much as they could.

Sam Chilingarian addresses the orchestra and parents during their open rehearsal.

Intense focus in rehearsal.

After the rehearsal, it was time for the kids to put down their instruments and eat a snack before their big performance.

While the kids were snacking and retaining their new music, the parents were treated to a talk lead by Tricia Tunstall, who’s latest book, the highly recommended Changing Lives, covers the topic of El Sistema by means of Gustavo Dudamel.

During this conversation, Ms. Tunstall recounted her visits to Venezuela and the impact they had on her.  She touched on the unique and vivacious setting each nucleo maintains; the joy of seeing youth funneled into a world-class and spiritually fulfilling music program.  When her brief was complete, Ms. Tunstall opened the talk into a discussion, eliciting questions and comments from the audience.  There were a few questions from the assembled group; mostly, the parents and family members were singing praise in the form of waxing on their children’s “better grades,” “showing more interest;” one parent admitted that her daughter “sleeps next to her viola at night.”

Tricia Tunstall extolling El Sistema.

After the talk there was a period of 25 minutes in which people chatted with each other, exchanging points on what works, what doesn’t work, and what could work to bring this wonderful system to more young people.  I spotted several small groups exchanging these pearly points:

Abreu fellow Adrienne Taylor effuses with Mark Churchill during the break.

Abreu fellow Katie Wyatt, Eric Booth, Tricia Tunstall and San Diego Youth Symphony's Program Director Carina Voly enjoy a spirited exchange.

While there was a schedule provided defining the events of the day, there was an ambience of improvisation which kept things lighthearted and flexible with the goal of being most helpful to the students.  Dr. Abreu’s “being/not being” mantra in its truest sense.

Formal yet flexible; every effort was put forth to learn from this seminario and grow towards improvement.

Just as the three nucleos rejoined for their day’s final performance, I left to prepare for the night’s concert at Disney Hall packed with inspiration and a clearer vision of the synergy that is El Sistema.

Played instruments are happy instruments.

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