Thursday, August 19, 2010

Leonard Bernstein: "Mambo", from West Side Story-- Gustavo Dudamel, conductor

This is a 2010 performance by the Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra from Venezuela. The music is from "West Side Story" by Leonard Bernstein. The orchestra is made up of poor kids from the streets of Caracas and other cities. They have impressed audiences throughout the world. Their orchestra leader, Gabriel Dudamel, has conducted the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra and several others in Europe. He is today all of 29 years old!

Here is some information on the El Sistema music education system that has been in place in Venezuela since 1975.

"The program is known for rescuing young people in extremely impoverished circumstances from the environment of drug abuse and crime into which they would likely otherwise be drawn. Participants of the program who have begun international careers include Gustavo Dudamel, Edicson Ruiz, Joen Vazquez, Pedro Eustache, L. Miguel Rojas, Edward Pulgar, Natalia Luis-Bassa, among others.
In September 2007, President Hugo Chávez announced on television a new government program, Misión Música, designed to provide tuition and music instruments to Venezuelan children...
On 6 June 2007, the Inter-American Development Bank announced the granting of a US$150 million loan for the construction of seven regional centers of El Sistema throughout Venezuela. Many bankers within the IDB originally objected to the loan on the grounds that classical music is for the elite. In fact, the bank has conducted studies on the more than two million young people who have been educated in El Sistema which link participation in the program to improvements in school attendance and declines in juvenile delinquency. Weighing such benefits as a falloff in school drop-out rates and a decline in crime, the bank calculated that every dollar invested in El Sistema was reaping about $1.68 in social dividends."


  1. This is a trailer for the 2008 documentary on Venezuela's highly inclusive music education program.

  2. I loved this, Doug. I'm passionate about bringing children together to make music. The orchestra becomes a second family and indeed, sometime the first family who has cared about them.

    What an exuberant conductor, he couldn't fail to inspire the young people before him.

    The video about music in the life of the poor, shows how it can change their lives and indeed if one catches them early enough, stop them getting in with the wrong crowd.

    I have found once a youth orchestra is formed, it gives the children confidence to set up small groups. With life in the main orchestra and the group, it keeps them too busy to stand on the corner of street where they are at risk.

    Thank you, how interesting.

  3. As you pointed out on your own site, Cassandra, fully-funded music instruction can create positive passions indeed and change lives for children.

    I wish we had more of these programs in America--its hard right now in my area for teachers in all studies just to get enough money from Washington and the state budgets to keep their jobs. So anything that promotes keeping "non-basic" courses like music alive has to be encouraged.

    I first saw Gustavo Dudamel conducting and leading kids orchestras on a network news program a couple years back, bringing the framework for this program to inner-city kids in Los Angeles. He's a hero in my book. Music and sporting groups teach kids a great deal,and, yes, give them skills they won't get on a street corner.

    And music has the added advantage of exposing young people to culture and a life-long appreciation for the music and the drama contained in art.

    I know I don't have to tell you all this, but the story behind these youth orchestras is very encouraging!

  4. Here's part of the "60 Minutes" interview he did with reporter Bob Simon:

  5. Funding for these projects is always a fight. We find the friends of the orchestra are prepared to take up the challenge when that funding is challenged and I wouldn't be surprised if you have the same set up in the US.

    Often this is the only way these children stand any hope of having an instrument. It is loaned to them for the duration of their time with the orchestra.

    The hard work of those who teach the children to read music can't be underestimated. Children lose heart so quickly and they need loads of praise and discipline or you've lost them. There must be times when the teachers literally want to pull their hair out.

    Yes, these people who take on such responsibilities are heroes indeed.

  6. He has such a good natured face. It really does have to be fun for the youngsters as well as hard work.

    Children want to please those they like.

    Thank you for that, Doug. Good luck to them all.

  7. We saw the Simon Bolivar YO on the Proms here a couple of years ago. They were absolutely wonderful and a great inspiration. It's a great scheme in Venezuela and I'm glad the idea is being spread to other parts of the world. I believe there's a similar orchestra in Scotland.

    It's clear that the kids were really enjoying making the music and I thoroughly enjoyed listening to them.

  8. Yes, Cassandra, music advocacy groups are challenged motrthan ever I'd say. But they have th weight of many state school studies showing the lower drime and drop-out rate among students when they take up part of a music program.

    I can imagine, having heard a few "young orchestras" in my time, just what patience and reserviors of encouragement is needed for teachers.

    To find one student with real affinity for an instrument must be a great pleasure indeed.

    Or just having a child truly motivated to get better at playing.

  9. He does, and he is picking up the baton literally that others like Leonard Bernstein himself took up in his day with his "Young People's Concerts" series.

  10. That must have been a big highlight to the evening, Jim. It's a tonic in a time where so much of what we hear internationally is about the ways national leadership resists adopting the goals of other nations for their temporary political ends.

    I'm glad to hear this scheme is spreading abroad.

  11. I'm sick to death of parochialism and xenophobia. It's a small planet and we have extraordinary methods of communication available to us now. There's no reason for clinging to the old ways simply because there our ways. I mean, come on, can't people open their eyes and adopt best practice from where ever it's found? To reject something simply for political or dogmatic reasons is childish nonsense I believe.

    I'll get off my soap box and put it away now Doug, sorry for the short rant. ;-)

  12. You're perfectly welcome to rant here anytime, Jim.

    Especially when you make a good point---if there is one thing the last century taught (or should have taught) us, its that too much ideology and nationalism leads to conflicts and then comes to violence. The arts are one way out of this mental impasse.

    Those who think all wisdom lies within their borders know less than they think.

  13. So true. Oddly, even with greater ability to communicate across national boarders by forums such as this it seems to me that peoples views are more entrenched today than they were before! How did that happen?