Macaulay Seminar One at Brooklyn College
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The Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra of Venezuela


For my independent visit to some sort of exhibition of art, I chose to accompany a seminar class from Queens College to Carnegie Hall to watch the Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra of Venezuela on Sunday, December 9th. This symphony is from a school in Venezuela called “El Sistema”. This school is virtually free of charge and offers children a vigorous musical curriculum. From what I understood of the school, one of its primary goals is to keep children from taking part in harmful activities and it strives to give the children a safe place where they feel they belong. The group we watched ranged in age from 18 to 21. They all wore very colorful jackets representing their country. At the end of the show, they actually threw them out into the audience. Their selection consisted of seven pieces, most of which were purely in Spanish. The pieces were mainly based on different Latin styles of dance. “Mambo” by Leonard Bernstein from West Side Story was one of the two pieces they performed in English. They performed this lively piece in a very sprightly manner and did it justice, I think. The piece is very upbeat and suspenseful. During the performance, many of the players began to twirl their instruments when they were not actually playing. Additionally, they tried to involve audience participation by screaming “MAMBO!” at the correct time and inviting the audience to do the same. I thought this was very nice because the audience was mostly kids, because Carnegie Hall had a day inviting mainly kids to come watch performances in an effort to promote appreciation for music among the youth. I also found out towards the end of the performance that there is a chapter of El Sistema in New York City, and there were members present in the audience, supporting their Venezuelan counterparts. I did find host of the event to be a bit irksome, to be honest. In between each song, she would try to relate each song to some story from her personal life. I think this may have been an effort to connect with the kids in some way, but I feel like her approach was a bit too self-centered. She rambled for so long in between each performance that her words sort of began to take away from the experience of listening to the orchestra perform. However, she did conduct some brief interviews with a few of the musicians onstage in between certain songs. This provided an interesting perspective for the audience I think because she asked the musicians about their backgrounds and what instrument they play and their views on certain pieces. I feel like this gave me (and I’m sure, many others too) a chance to relate to the musicians in some way and to understand their culture. The musicians spoke virtually no English, however, so she had to translate all of their responses for the audience.

All in all, I really enjoyed the experience. I think I can safely say I would not have enjoyed going to some sort of art gallery on my own because I wouldn’t know what to look at and I would just glance over everything there; I would not know how to interpret anything. Listening to lively ethnic pieces, however, really reawakens my senses. As a pianist of thirteen years, I generally only listen to Western classical music and some popular music. This experience gave me a chance to understand the music and culture of another nation in a mere two hours. I feel like this was art not only because of the music that was played, but because of the passion that the performers showed for their craft. They really seemed to enjoy playing their instruments. Even one of the conductors, who conducted Mambo (there were two or three total conductors who individually conducted different pieces) was going wild, flailing his arms vigorously. Even though his back was turned to the audience, I felt I could appreciate how much he was enjoying what he was doing. I feel like when live performers clearly seem passionate about what they are doing, the audience would enjoy the show more.


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