Moving to high culture
By Roger Gittens | Thu, August 16, 2012 - 12:01 AM()
Minister of Education Ronald Jones was recently quoted as saying there has to be a balance between high and low culture in Barbados. He would like to see Barbados’ orchestras playing in packed halls across the island. How do we achieve this?
Let’s not reinvent the wheel. Jose Antonio Abreu, an economist and musician, started The National Network Of Youth And Children’s Orchestras Of Venezuela in 1975. The programme, better known as El Sistema, is free and currently caters to some 400 000 children in 200 youth orchestras across Venezuela. Its premier group The Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra tours the world to sell-out audiences. El Sistema’s most renowned graduate is arguably Gustavo Dudamel who was named director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic in 2009 at age 26.
The key features of El Sistema are regular tuition by trained musicians – six days a week in Venezuela; it’s free to participants – more than 70 per cent of the children in the programme live below the poverty line; and the creation of orchestras.
The Barbados version could go as follows:
• Employ 20 to 25 peripatetic music teachers in the primary schools;
• Run after-school and Saturday instrumental programmes in primary and secondary schools. This includes broadening the primary school string progamme;
• Divide the island into zones where such schools as The Alexandra, Alleyne, Combermere, Foundation, Lester Vaughan and Princess Margaret Schools can be used as centres for orchestras;
• Develop school and community music festivals where the best performances would go to NIFCA;
• Develop Bachelor of Music Education and of Performance at the Barbados Community College (BCC);
• Reform the Division of Fine Arts at BCC into the School of Visual and Performing Arts. Its music department would oversee El Sistema, and if given autonomy, this school would move the Venezuelan programme to another level as the school would foster collaboration among the arts that would result in music videos, films, fashion shows, dance productions and so on.
I applaud the minister on his observation. El Sistema has been imported into several cities in the United States and also Britain where it successfully keeps children off the streets and develops confidence, self-worth, team work, expressivity and creativity in its participants.
A version of it can be seen in the OAS Marchland Youth Orchestra project started in St Lucia in 2009.
The IDB estimates that for every $1 the Venezuelan government invests in El Sistema, the economy reaps $1.68. What are we waiting for?
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