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La Scena Musicale - Vol. 16, No. 8

Canada, The Place To Be for All Things Sistema

by Jonathan Govias / May 2, 2011

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Canada’s history with the el Sistema movement may not be very long, but it does not lack for distinction. In 2008, the Glenn Gould Foundation named Maestro Abreu the laureate of its Eighth Prize for his manifest international achievements in the arts. In the fall of 2009, the Maestro visited Toronto, speaking at a symposium and the Simón Bolívar Orchestra was introduced to Canadian audiences for the first time. And less than one year later, on August 18, 2010, the New Brunswick Regional Development Corporation under Minister Victor Boudreau announced a commitment of $1.84 million to the New Brunswick Youth Orchestra in support of its el Sistema program.

As distinguishing gestures go, that might be the largest government investment in el Sistema to date in North America, far exceeding typical gifts from provincial arts foundations to major professional orchestras. It was a financial vote of confidence in the youth orchestra’s strategic vision, a vision that has embraced el Sistema both philosophically and practically. In addition to running a conventional youth symphony, NBYO launched a núcleo in Moncton two years ago, and has plans to open another two centres in Saint John and Richibucto before the year is out. Although it’s too early for measurable social results to have emerged, NBYO is well on its way to creating the first genuine regional Sistema network in North America. To celebrate, the NBYO is convening a summit in Moncton on May 14 and 15 at which they will welcome Maestro Abreu himself, who will receive an honorary doctorate from Mount Allison University as part of the proceedings.


It turns out that Canada is the place to be this May for all things Sistema, as the University of Western Ontario will host a major international symposium from May 29 to June 1 devoted to the idea of music as an agent of social change. More exploratory than celebratory, the event is notable in that it will be the first very serious examination of el Sistema from a scientific and academic perspective. Distinguished sociologists Christopher Small (mentioned in instalment five of this series) and Hildegard Froehlich will speak, and although they lack the star power of Maestro Abreu, their voices represent an essential, impartial corollary to his message and vision. www.lme.uwo.ca (Full disclosure: I will be presenting a keynote as well.) Formation of a national movement will be on the agenda; with NBYO, Leading Note Foundation in Ottawa, and other initiatives cropping up more and more rapidly across Canada, discussion has naturally turned towards coordination beyond the regional level. This is challenging territory, since for every story like that of the centrally-funded national initiative about to launch in the UK, an opposing example stands, like the dramatic false start of the US movement. With this much activity in Canada, however, the only question concerning a national plan is when, not if.

Jonathan Govias is a distinguished conductor, consultant and educator for el Sistema programs on four continents. For enhanced content, please visit www.jonathangovias.com

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