At the invitation of the Justice of the Supreme Court of Oklahoma Noma D. Gurich and Oklahoma Bar Association President Jim Stuart, young classical conductor, author, and mentor Jose Luis Hernandez-Estrada presented a keynote speech that explored ethics and aesthetics in music and a vision for the building of education systems that can support a new blossoming youth. Eleven string students of the newly instituted El Sistema Oklahoma performed orchestral pieces and engaged the audience at the event. Hear the entire speech here:
I recently came across the work of American theologian Frederick Buechener. He spoke of a concept that impressed me greatly. He defined vocations as realizations of mission as intersection or “the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” This maxim is true for the teachers of El Sistema and all educators who recognize music as a congenial space that is both inspirational and transformational. For Maestro Abreu, these men and women of service are “messengers of the highest social mission of art.” That is a tremendous responsibility. It implies building a noble and aspirational path for those in need of the comfort that only artistic endeavors can bring and that society desperately needs—“spirituality, solidarity, compassion, and above all, happiness,” Abreu contends. I’ve written elsewhere about the ineffability music, and yet its powers always seems to manifest themselves more clearly and succinctly when practiced as part of a social endeavor or experience. In the classroom or rehearsal space, every teacher with an authentic vocation (those who care deeply about nurturing a higher cause) will come to be surrounded by the fraternal, a spirit that inevitably becomes magnified by the connections that she has made with her students through the communal experience of art. These invisible connections, and in our case, concerted by and through music, allow teachers to derive a deep gladness and invite students to turn their hearts directly to a place where hope awaits. Infinite as music.
Excerpt from The Oklahoman - Sunday Life Edition
By Carla Hinton, 09/15
"Education should not be just about nurturing the intellect, it should also be about nourishing the soul..."
Jose Luis Hernandez-Estrada followed his father into a rehearsal hall filled with members of a professional orchestra in Tampico, Mexico. The musicians crowded around his father, yelling “Maestro!” in their excitement to meet the piano soloist for their next performance.
His dad merely smiled and quietly led the child to a piano.
At 10 years old, Hernandez-Estrada was the acclaimed pianist the musicians awaited — much to their surprise.
“The conductor knew who the soloist was, but the musicians thought they were waiting for my father,” Hernandez-Estrada said, smiling, during a recent interview at Oklahoma City University.
That memorable moment from 1994 rose to the surface recently as Hernandez-Estrada anticipated his first season as executive director of El Sistema Oklahoma. The program, in its inaugural year, provides free orchestral music training to a group of students in third through sixth grades from six Oklahoma City public schools: Sequoyah, Linwood, Gatewood, Kaiser, Putnam Heights and Cleveland.
Hernandez-Estrada, 29, is now an internationally acclaimed pianist and classical conductor. He said sharing the gift of music with the Oklahoma youths reminds him of his childhood when he discovered music for the first time.
Also see the first article in the series: 'Kaleidoscope of sound': Students begin acclaimed after-school music program.
There is something quite ineffable about music. It is an invisible language, mysterious and powerful at the same time. You cannot see music but you can feel it. It embraces anyone who would be called to listen to and participate in it. Its effects transcend any scholarly explanations. The properties of this physical phenomenon can probably be best described in spiritual or even ethical terms. As an artist and educator, I often ask myself the question, “Why is music important?” And more specifically, “What can music do to help us thrive as people?” The practice of music invites us to embolden our creative spirits and often begets spaces of beauty. These are tremendous opportunities for anyone, yet the presence of these in the life of a poor child can be the best antidote and hope that he may have to succeed through the challenges of life. When a child in need is given a musical instrument, he discovers a new and hopeful voice framed in harmony that elevates a sometime fragile human condition.
In El Sistema, we recognize music as a fundamental right and as a social action in service to others. An “art at the service of those who cry for vindication and the raising up of the dignity,” as Jose Antonio Abreu would explain. To better understand the essence of our work let us also ponder the words of Mother Teresa of Calcutta as she often expressed, “The most miserable and tragic thing about poverty is not the lack of bread or roof, but the feeling of being no one.” And the words of Maestro Abreu, as he refers to education as the means to aspire towards something much greater than ourselves. “Education being the synthesis of wisdom and knowledge, it is the means to strive for a more perfect, more enlightened, and just society.” Both statements are as eloquent and as important to embody the work of El Sistema.
In doing this work, we believe that all children should be valued and that investing in a participatory and collective music education is the means to achieve a positive and lasting social change in their lives. We strive to provide the best opportunities—which include the best teachers, instruments, and infrastructure to show our students and families that we are committed to their success. Even at the very nascent stages of the Oklahoma City program we are already seeing many smiles and shining eyes. “Thank you for giving Adrian a second chance,” one parent said, “No one believes in him, but you do.” This is precisely what we aspire to. To believe. To have faith on the infinite potential of our youth and in the aspirations of families who seek for a better life. And we are using music as the vehicle. It is our best hope to help make a difference.