Sometimes, we only get one side of the story. That’ s unfortunate.
Venezuela’s reputation has suffered in recent years; violence, food shortages, and a country torn in two by political differences. It’s sad to watch.
What we don’t often see on television or our computers or smart phones are the wonderfully warm Venezuelan people; they are charming and colorful. Also, they absolutely love music.
That’s where today’s story comes in. Many North Americans know Bobby Abreu, the outstanding baseball player who’ll retire this season after a great athletic career in the US and Venezuela. Venezuelans don’t call him Bobby; it’s Bob, his given name (Bob Kelly Abreu, to be precise).
Bob was born in 1974, a year before Jose Antonio Abreu, a former economist, founded something called “El Sistema” in Venezuela. (It has a much longer official name, acronym FESNOJIV.) The notion was simple and incredibly ambitious: found a network of choruses and orchestras throughout the country, especially benefitting poor children.
Maestro Abreu’s system has worked marvelously. Thousands of Venezuelan kids get a free musical education and go on to play in orchestras. One of them, Barquisimeto’s own Gustavo Dudamel, is one of the classical world’s rising stars; at 33 the conductor of the Los Angeles Philharmonic and Gothenberg Symphony Orchestras.
Maestro Abreu keeps fighting the good fight at age 75, with the motto “fight and play;” (luchar y tocar) in other words, fight for the right of everyone to make music. He said that music was once the music of the elite, made for the elite; now it’s the music of the elite, made for many; he wants to make it the music of everyone, made for everyone.
Jose Antonio Abreu: photo courtesy of Venezuela Sinfonica Orchestra
A populist notion, to be sure, in a country from which we’ve heard many in recent years. But it stems from a noble proposition that children can learn teamwork as much from music as they can from sports. And such populist notions give me pause for thought when I remember how much I paid for a beer last time I went to Yankee Stadium.
So today’s blog, written just 48 hours before I myself land in Caracas, supports the notion that you can find good everywhere, don’t believe everything you hear on the news, and carry a song in your heart.