Product of El Sistema
As Gustavo relays childhood memories of conducting an orchestra assembled from toys while growing up in the barrios of Barquisimeto, it is not difficult to realize the incredible opportunity afforded to Dudamel by El Sistema. No longer strapped by the oppressive limits of poverty, Dudamel says he was lucky to “be able to play music, to have the ability to dream.”
By way of employing Gustavo Dudamel as El Sistema’s greatest exponent, director Alberto Mendoza brilliantly introduces us to El Sistema. From this point of departure, the film follows the trajectory of the critically acclaimed conductor, which, one deduces, would not have been made possible without the simultaneous growth and development of El Sistema in Venezuela.
Beyond Venezuela, beyond the notes
For the first time, El Sistema and El Sistema-inspired programs are captured on a global scale, as Dudamel: Let the Children Play is filmed throughout Venezuela, the United States, Bolivia, Colombia, Scotland, South Korea, Sweden and Germany. Seeing students and teachers from each one of these countries share the great personal importance of their musical experiences powerfully reinforces the notion that music is one of humanity’s most powerful cultural agents.
And although I’ve heard the prolific tale of the beginning of El Sistema- a single rehearsal in a Caracas garage with no more than a dozen students- many times, this story, as relayed in the film is as emotionally resonant as ever. Maestro Abreu speaks of his vision of music as a universal right, his dream to unite people, and his commitment to better communities.
Through his poetic words, which permeate the entirety of the film, a larger sense of purpose unfolds. In a particularly poignant moment, a young child in Venezuela, perhaps no more than seven years old says, “when we play, we feel like there’s peace.” As this young lady also happens to be a citizen of one the most notoriously dangerous and impoverished countries of the world, I found this to be a particularly moving sentiment.
A Powerful Message
In a sense, this film could easily be re-titled El Sistema: Let the Music Play, as it is certainly a film about El Sistema, with Gustavo Dudamel, rather than a film about Gustavo Dudamel. Of course, I suspect that this is quite intentional on Mendoza’s behalf. Without El Sistema there would be no Gustavo Dudamel, as it is impossible to divorce the young virtuoso from his education and experiences in El Sistema.
To fully understand Gustavo Dudamel’s abilities and preeminent success is to understand the magnitude and scope of the opportunity presented to him. Gustavo found himself situated in a remarkable circumstance which allowed him to discover his talents through musical instruction provided free of charge, an environment which helped nurture and refine his unique abilities through lessons and ensembles, provided with mentors his family might not have had access to otherwise, and with membership in a system that entrusted him to conduct his own orchestra at age eleven.
If there is one singular message to be taken away from Dudamel: Let the Children Play, I believe it is social, rather than artistic in nature. In order to secure a prosperous future for our youth, in a world increasingly troubled by complex social issues and growing economic disparity, we must invest in opportunities which allow our youth to discover and explore their talents, we must provide them environments that nurture their innate creativity, and provide access to programs which entrust and empower.
In short, we must do nothing less than supply programs which have the capacity foster talents of the world’s burgeoning Gustavo Dudamels.