(Continued from Part 1)
But we have to back up for a bit, because there is another side to this story. Back in college as an undergraduate, my intellectual growth and worldly view that I gained through my liberal arts education had begun to reveal to me the immensities and complexities of the world's problems. Yet at the same time, I was slaving away practicing the piano and writing black dots on a piece of paper (or, more often, a computer screen.) I began to struggle with what role art and music play in the world and wondering about how art can help contribute to the solving the huge and numerous global crises that we are facing in this century. I continually asked myself (and still do) "How can I do as much as I can to help solve these problems through my passion for music?", or should I take up another profession in which I can contribute more? I have thought about this a lot in the ensuing years, and found a wonderful example of how music can influence positive social values in Frederic Rzewski's "The People United Will Never Be Defeated!", a piano piece which I analyzed for my 173-page senior thesis in music theory as an undergraduate. This piece gave me a glimmer of hope for how abstract music can help the world. As a first year graduate student, I wrote an essay exploring this dilemma further, yet continued to struggle with how to make a bigger personal impact.
Then I saw this video and I knew how I could make such an impact through music. I'd been aware of "El Sistema", the system of youth orchestras in Venezuela, but this speech by Dr. Jose Abreu, the founder, was so inspirational! I had already begun to realize (much due to the fact that I was now teaching as a graduate assistant) that education is the root problem of all our global crises. If we educate the next generation to think for themselves, to care for all others and the planet, we will be able to make significant progress on solving all these problems. But to see what MUSIC education was doing to not only create great musicians and great music, but helping to bring children, families, and communities (hundreds of thousands of people) out of poverty through developing self-esteem, social skills, and a sense of creating something beautiful! And this was in Venezuela, who nobody would think of when you mention classical music! On top of all that, being the recipient of the TED prize, Abreu announced that he was beginning a training program for young musicians in the US to help bring "El Sistema" to the my own country! This was my opportunity help transform potentially millions of American children's lives through music by helping to successfully adapt this program in the US! I then watched a documentary called "Tocar y Luchar (To Play and To Fight)", which only inspired me further! I applied to the training program, called "The Abreu Fellows Program" at the New England Conservatory in Boston, and was sure that I would be a perfect candidate. I interviewed, but was not accepted. So, I said, if they won't let me study El Sistema there, I'm just going to go study it in Venezuela on my own on a Fulbright!
That was my plan at the time. This was around March of last year (2011) and the last semester of my masters degree. I had put off taking a required Bibliography/Research Methods class until now, which required us to complete a "State of the Research" project on a topic of our choice, gathering ALL the research already done on a single topic. Most students do this on the subject of their masters thesis or doctoral dissertation, but as a composition major who's thesis was to write a piece of music, I could choose anything I was interested in for this project, and so I chose El Sistema. What I learned from gathering the research was that there is a bit of discussion about how to successfully adapt El Sistema in the US because of the great cultural difference between our two countries. A bunch of "El Sistema USA" programs have begun across the country, yet the oldest is only about 5 years old and it is hard to tell if they have and are being successful at this early stage. There is still time to change and adapt the programs as they grow. I also learned that over 25 countries have begun programs inspired by El Sistema, yet there was literally nothing I could find written about these programs except those in the US and UK, and even those were not talking about whether or not these programs had been effective or not.
I then graduated in May and I was still planning on applying for a Fulbright to Venezuela at this point, but without a clear idea of my project, just that I wanted to go see El Sistema for myself and understand how we can successfully adopt it in the US. I looked on the Fulbright website to see if any other people had ever gone to Venezuela to study El Sistema on a Fulbright, because I didn't want to be copying someone else's exact project, plus I needed ideas for honing my proposal. I only found one, a girl who went a couple years ago to study the formation and early years of El Sistema. Then, a few days later, I was talking with one of my teachers about my plans for the next year, including applying for the Fulbright to Venezuela. I mentioned the fact that I'd only found one other person who went to Venezuela on a Fulbright to study El Sistema, and he said, to my surprise, "Well, she is going to be a student here next year! I have her application right here. Here is her email address."
How lucky was that?
So I emailed her and asked if I could speak with her about the Fulbright program and we later talked on the phone about it. For some reason, I can't really remember why, but after we had talked I felt that going to Venezuela to study El Sistema was not unique or original enough and wouldn't accomplish what I wanted to do. I wanted to go to Venezuela and see how El Sistema worked so the US could do the same, but there were already plenty of people doing just that (like the Abreu Fellows.) I realized I should be looking at what another country's programs are doing, whether they have been successful, what they have changed in order to adapt it to their own culture, and what lessons the US can learn from them. I'd learned from doing that "State of the Research" project that nobody had researched anything about the programs in these other countries, so doing this would definitely be a unique, original, and hopefully very beneficial, project.
But which country of the 25 odd ones would I choose pursue?
Actually, you already know the answer. But anyways, stay tuned for Part 3.