I met Dr. José Antonio Abreu today. I can’t and won’t reproduce in any detail the discourse that took place, but the impression he left was profound, and I would say that even if I were not aware of his tremendous leadership of the movement and his manifest accomplishments. He’s not particularly animated, employing very restrained body language and vocal tone, nor is he prepossessing physically, being of small stature and conservative dress. But when he spoke, he made evident an incredible, unrivalled depth and breadth of thought. He left no doubt that everything el Sistema does is carefully considered: the social, sociological, pedagogical, psychological and economic consequences or implications are all weighed and contemplated. The crucial point is that despite the power of his intellect, he never was or will be paralyzed by it: he is an extraordinary example of the perfect equilibrium between thought and action. He didn’t wait until every piece was perfectly in place, or every condition was met, he acted, but taking the most informed course of action at the time.
You’d think this method, seemingly rudderless, would lead to complete and total disorder, but that simply hasn’t happened. Abreu himself described the approach as rooted in chaos theory,although the phrase doesn’t mean what the words might literally suggest: it’s the mathematical concept that a constrained set of variables or values can produce significantly different, or even surprising manifestations, all of which are intrinsically linked to the starting data set. A nice analogy is an apple seed: you know for a fact that in planting it, an apple tree will grow. How tall, how many apples, how many branches: all these and more can and will change for every single tree – but you can be certain that the tree will be an apple tree.
For el Sistema, the variables or values, the seeds, aren’t numeric or algebraic: they’re pedagogical and social. Each flowering (another Abreu word) is unique, most suited to the local growing conditions, but is also firmly rooted, or deterministically constrained, by the fundamental principles of music as an agent for social change. Most importantly, the loop is not closed or finite, but constantly evolving as the context changes. The musical network here is in a state of “being on the way to being”, as Abreu put it, a work in progress never to be completed. Intentionally.
This is a most ingenious paradox, and those following the movement beyond Venezuela should take heart. Know what seed you’re planting – but then plant it. The best day to start was yesterday.