El Sistema Diary: Building a Sound Culture

In Barquisimeto, I asked a student what made the Venezuelan orchestras play with such inspiration. “They have charisma,” he said. Everyone brings their own self into the music, and every musician looks for new things that they can bring. “Any orchestra can play the Danzon No. 2, but we make it special, because we don’t just focus on the notes, we focus on feeling the music.”

Part of the aesthetics of sound in El Sistema stem from being the music. It is a process that is driven by both a kinesthetic and affective approach to performance. The narratives in the music, literally move the orchestras. The embedded experience-constants guide their music-making.

It is a culture of establishing relationships through sound. The fact that musicians can grow up together and make music throughout their youth allows them to discover themselves as active participants and collaborators of beauty. They can share their feelings freely and without reservation. Perfection is never the goal, striving towards something that is larger than oneself is part of the aesthetics. The music is often exaggerated, dynamic ranges are wider than usual, rhythmic passages taken on more percussive qualities, lyrical sections speak with heartfelt expression.

In El Sistema, we hear a different kind of sound, unified throughout all levels of musical skill, because their artistry encompasses an entire dimension of life experiences, reflected in and through music.  As a social program, music takes on different meanings. And this helps musicians transcend both as individuals and as a community, extending the possibilites of music far beyond the notes, and into new realms of human expression.

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