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El Sistema: Social Support and Advocacy Through Musical Education

04/17/2010 2:00 PM Kresge
Gustavo Dudamel, Director, Los Angeles Philharmonic; John Harbison, Institute Professor, MIT; Tod Machover, Professor Media Arts, MIT; Maria Hinojosa, Managing Editor and Host, Latino USA

Description: Even confined to a panel discussion, Gustavo Dudamel radiates so much passion and ebullience that it requires little imagination to see him at the podium with a baton in hand. MIT's 2010 McDermott Award in the Arts winner is, at the tender age of 29, one of the world's top conductors and music disseminators. In conversation with two MIT music luminaries, and moderator Maria Hinojosa, Dudamel describes the remarkable music education system in Venezuela that set him on his path, and that continues to inspire his work in the U.S. and around the world.

"When El Sistema gave me an instrument, it was the best moment in my life," says Dudamel, who attributes his success and world view in large part to Venezuela's 35"year"old innovative music education system -- or as Dudamel characterizes it, a transformative social movement. The brainchild of economist and politician Jose Antonio Abreu, El Sistema invites children from all of Venezuela's communities to play music and join orchestras through their school years. The result is an extraordinary national experiment that "changes the life of families and towns," says Dudamel. "The problem with society is exclusion, and when you give an instrument to a child" you are changing the life of the family and the entire community, he says. Today, 300,000 Venezuelan children are growing up playing classical music, and learning along the way how to instruct even younger students in performance and conducting. This collaborative learning and teaching organization, says Dudamel, led him to his vocation.

MIT Media Lab professor Tod Machover watched Dudamel conduct the MIT Orchestra the night before. Machover comments that Dudamel, unlike more autocratic conductors, "found a way to combine leadership, and being part of a group." Machover, whose own interests in technology and music encourage ways of building connections among people, views Dudamel and El Sistema as an inspiration for creating community through music"making. Dudamel responds that he doesn't "feel like a boss as a conductor," but more like a chef in a kitchen with his team. He comes up with an idea, and someone says "maybe this can be more salty, and you have to be open to that."

Pulitzer Prize"winning composer John Harbison notes that his only experience with state"sponsored musical "nurturing" was in Canada at a young composer program, which felt like "some form of heaven." He doesn't hold out much hope for a "parallel experience in concert music in the U.S.," regretting that "we have a more affluent society which has established certain kinds of cultural valuesNow we have generations of kids who haven't heard a note of concert music or jazz, or high quality exploratory music. We have a real lacuna, a hole we need to address." Harbison sees Dudamel as "a tremendous asset," perhaps a crucial element in a campaign to touch a new generation in America and beyond.

Dudamel is more than willing to be a global ambassador for music"making and for breaking down barriers of all kinds. He is starting youth programs at his home base in Los Angeles, in Korea, Germany and Italy, and also in Boston at the New England Conservatory. "We have a phrase in Venezuela -- tocar y luchar -- to play and to fight, which is also the symbol for El Systema." The borders that exist in the world between peoples are "all in our head," says Dudamel, "and our message through music is everyone has a chance to have a future, together."

About the Speaker(s): Maria Hinojosa is an award"winning journalist and author. She worked as the urban affairs correspondent for CNN, and prior to that as the New York"based correspondent for NPR. She also hosted Visiones, a public affairs talk show on WNBC"TV, New York.

In 1991, Hinojosa worked for WNYC"TV as the host of New York Hotline, a live, primetime call"in public affairs show, and in 1990 worked for WNYC Radio as a general assignment correspondent. From 1988 to 1989, Hinojosa served as a producer and researcher for CBS This Morning, and in 1987 worked for CBS Radio as a producer. Among the shows she produced for CBS Radio: Where We Stand with Walter Cronkite, The Osgood File and Newsbreak. Hinojosa has been named one of the 100 most influential Latinos in the United States by Hispanic Business Magazine. In 1995, Hinojosa received the Robert F. Kennedy award for "Manhood Behind Bars," a story for NPR, which documented how jail has become a rite of passage for men of all races. In 1993, she received both the National Association of Hispanic Journalists Radio Award and the New York Society of Professional Journalists Deadline Award for her NPR report, "Kids and Guns."

In addition, Hinojosa authored the book Crews: Gang Members Talk with Maria Hinojosa, (1995), which was based on her award"winning NPR report. Her second book, Raising Raul: Adventures Raising Myself and My Son,, a memoir about raising a Latino child in a multicultural society, was published by Viking"Penguin in 2000. In 1999, Working Mothers Magazine named Hinojosa one of the 25 "Most Influential Working Mothers." Gustavo Dudamel began his tenure at the Los Angeles Philharmonic in October, 2009. His arrival in Los Angeles follows guest appearances with the Vienna Philharmonic and the Berlin Philharmonic. He continues as Music Director of the Gothenburg Symphony and enters his eleventh year as Music Director of the Simn BolÍvar Youth Orchestra of Venezuela.

Dudamel was born in 1981 in Barquisimeto, Venezuela, where he studied violin at the Jacinto Lara Conservatory. In 1996, he began conducting studies and in the same year was named Music Director of the Amadeus Chamber Orchestra. In 1999, along with assuming the Music Director position for the Simn BolÍvar Youth Orchestra, he began conducting studies with Jos_ Antonio Abreu, the Orchestra's founder. He came to international attention in the inaugural Bamberger Symphoniker Gustav Mahler Conducting Competition in May 2004.

In May 2007, Dudamel was awarded the "Premio de la Latinidad, an honor given for outstanding contributions to Latin cultural life. Dudamel was named one of the 100 most influential people of 2009 by TIME magazine and has been featured twice on CBS's 60 Minutes.

Host(s): Office of the Provost, Council for the Arts

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