[Earlier today I had the pleasure and privilege of addressing the Board of Trustees of the New England Conservatory jointly with my esteemed colleague Lorrie Heagy, who has featured very prominently in my videos posted below. The following text is an excerpt from my prepared comments to the Board. ]
I’m an orchestra person. I began my life in music at age six, studying piano… because my mother made me. When I was thirteen, I started playing orchestral horn, but I continued because I loved it. I never for a moment considered becoming a soloist – I loved everything about orchestra. I loved the music, of course, but also the camaraderie, the sense of being a part of something much greater than myself.
I didn’t know it at the time, but that was my first brush with the tenets of El Sistema, long before the program was known, let alone celebrated. I’d experience the other broader outcomes and possibilities of el Sistema after I completed my undergraduate degree, when I was appointed Music Director of an orchestra in Calcutta – Calcutta being one of the few places on earth with a social context more complex, if not more desperate, than Venezuela. The new models of community engagement developed there had profound artistic, financial and yes, social consequences – all at the same time! This was ten years ago, and since then the ideals of el Sistema, as we now know them, have been the unifying thread in what has been a very eclectic, diverse career. In various lives I’ve been an international media/social entrepreneur, a senior administrator for a major orchestra, a performing arts consultant, and I was and now am again an active orchestral conductor. All of these experiences have played a role – and continue to play a role, in bringing me here to NEC to be a part of this incredible movement. And with the experience and understanding I’ve gained, I can answer without hesitation why this initiative here at NEC is so important to the field. The Symphony world is not like music education. We don’t have competing ideas or alternative philosophies we can try. We have strikes, we have nasty public political disputes, and we have bankruptcies. Orchestras in North America desperately need to foster the artistic, financial and social results I witnessed in Calcutta. To say it’s the future of the industry might sound like a cliché, but it’s actually an understatement. El Sistema represents the only future the industry has right now, and if orchestras don’t lead the change, they’ll be left behind by it.