Editor's note: While in Caracas, the LA Phil's VP of Marketing Shana Mathur and YOLA Manager Dan Berkowitz made an unscheduled visit to the Sarria Nucleo in a Caracas barrio. They collaborated on the following.
Sarria is located in a barrio of Caracas. It is poor and quite dangerous. It is part of a school, unlike most nucleos, that is owned and operated by the government. The children, ages 3-15, come from split homes, rampant with drugs, gangs and often abuse.
In the mornings, the school, with its peeling and crumbling walls, offers academics to its 600 students. In the afternoons, most students engage in the music program, at various levels, taught by the 26 music teachers.
We were lucky to be observing - these were not showcases like some of the programs we visited. We dropped in on several groups going about their lessons as they do every day. The first consisted of children ages 7-8, in a choral class. They were singing simple Venezuelan folk songs.
The second room we went to had 6-7 year-olds in a small group of six, learning violin. It was the beginning of their second week of lessons. They were playing a simple melody, and the teacher, who has been working in El Sistema for 27 years and has seen her students move onto great national orchestras, was so excited when the kids were playing their notes clearly and in unison for us. It was so exciting!
We saw a small mixed orchestra, a percussion ensemble, a more advanced choral class and finally a string orchestra with more advanced students. The string orchestra was playing Handel's Water Music, and then a popular Venezuelan folk song "Alma llanera," from memory. The repertoire is a mix of classical and folk songs so there is a balance between technique and familiarity.