Weekly roundup, Sat 22 November

Here’s a collection of my posts from Facebook over the last week. No overarching theme – just some nuggets of interest about El Sistema.


Someone just posted this on my blog. As s/he says, “Here you can find how the people feel abo[u]t work at the Sistema.” I knew about this already, it’s in my book. It gives some insight into the conditions in which many ordinary Sistema teachers work and how they feel about it.


Responding to my Guardian article, El Sistema director Eduardo Méndez says the institution is “open to criticism.” And then claims they don’t know who I am or even whether I actually went to Venezuela.

It must have been another Dr Geoffrey Baker from Royal Holloway who was given the full VIP show at Montalbán on 12/11/10 at 4pm. (see illustration on p.2 of my book)


I’ve read many, many articles about El Sistema on Aporrea and quite a few have had something of value in them, but this one hits several targets – class, money, prizes, pedagogy…


In my recent blog post for OUP on music education, discipline, and profit, I wrote the following:

“Gustavo Dudamel and the Simón Bolívar Youth Orchestra, meanwhile, have become mainstays of the global music industry, attracting the kind of international praise and wonder that Venetian orphan musicians did centuries earlier, and generating considerable revenue in the process.”

I received a private message in response that is well worth sharing (with the author’s permission). The respondent (whom I didn’t know) wrote:

“With global demand for new orchestral recordings in decline, and a public less willing than ever to pay for recorded music, today’s classical niche labels like Deutsche Grammaphon – subsumed as they now are by profit-driven parent companies like Universal Music – have turned to the non-union, offshore, cheap labour alternative of the Simon Bolivar Orchestra to mitigate financial risk. With the SBO’s entrenched “rescue” narrative packaged into the deal, meager marketing budgets are swelled by priceless emotional capital. Exploitation, discipline and profit are conveniently concealed beneath the more palatable distraction of music, beaming smiles, flamboyant bouffants and the familiar tricolor of the Venezuelan flag. Add an evocatively exotic album title like “Fiesta!” to the image, and the deception is complete, a perfectly utilitarian quid pro quo sealed: the anti-capitalist, anti-imperialist, anti-bourgeois, “revolutionary” benefactor funds a totemic social program – dedicated to the disciplined learning of imperial, bourgeois music – whose ideology is distributed for profit in the global capital markets by a multi-national Trojan Horse.”


Here’s a very interesting article, partly about my book, by the Venezuelan composer, researcher and conductor Diego Silva. If you read nothing else, read the message from a mother with children in El Sistema.

And here’s another article by the same author, this time about the great inequalities in the Venezuelan cultural field thanks to the uncontrolled expansion of El Sistema and its subsidies.

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