The Legend of Bobby Z

Roberto Zambrano in Rehearsal

The first Monday of my time in Acarigua, I stopped by the office of the núcleo director, Roberto Zambrano, while the orchestra was on break. He was on the phone, in full crisis-prevention mode. The seminario would start in earnest on Tuesday, but the Centro Social was unable to accommodate us until Wednesday, and the núcleo rehearsal room was too small for the expected number of musicians (not to mention the air-conditioning was out). “This is it”, he said, “Tocar y Luchar.”

He was partly right. I stand by my previous posting: it wasn’t just “Tocar y Luchar” but “Luchar, Lograr y Tocar”, because by Tuesday morning the entire operation had been shifted to the general purpose room at Universidad Yacambú. Dozens of chairs, music stands, percussion instruments, and the busloads of musicians all arrived first thing in the morning at the new venue. The mountain had made a day-trip to Mohammed: everything would be moved again at the end of the day to the Centro Social for rehearsal on Wednesday.

This is just one example of what Roberto does – and can do.  He is the archetypal núcleo director, combining the best elements of performer, teacher and administrator. More than that, as the single-day relocation demonstrates, he’s a man who gets things done.  The first time I met him was in Boston, in the first week of the Abreu Fellows program. His first act was to induct the Fellows into the Fesnojiv family through the presentation of the insignia of the movement. We then watched over an hour of footage from various concerts, some featuring him as soloist (he’s an active cellist, trained in both Venezuela and Europe, and was a member of the forerunner of the Símon Bolívar Orchestra), some featuring him as a conductor. I don’t want to give the impression that the session was about him – it was always about el Sistema, about the work of the organization, and he demonstrated it as best he could: through the music.

Roberto and I discussing strategy

And that’s Roberto’s world: the children and the music. Acarigua is probably the Venezuelan equivalent of Podunk, yet for third year in a row it has hosted a major regional orchestra workshop. Roberto organizes this massive project because he wants his kids there to have, for at least one time a year, the kind of experience  that they would enjoy more regularly if they were in Barquisimeto or some other larger centre. He doesn’t do it for the glory, he does it because he has the good of the students in mind. The best proof of that is the fact that after two weeks of coordinating transportation, food and accommodation for about 100 individuals, organizing multiple venue shifts, emceeing concerts and even leading a few string sectionals in spare moments –  after all that, at the concluding concert, he stood aside and let others take the bows.

Roberto is an extraordinary person, and (in my mind at least) the personification of the ideals and spirit of Fesnojiv. He makes things happen, and he makes them happen for the students and the music. As such, he’s just one of the many unsung, unknown heroes of la Red. When Simon Rattle stands in front of a national 350+piece youth orchestra,when Claudio Abbado walks into the Centre for Social Action through Music, it’s the result of the ceaseless efforts and countless hours of people throughout the organization, from the individuals who work on the 18th floor of the west tower of Parque Central all the way to the person who gave Samuel Vargas his first violin (that would be Roberto). They never get to take a bow or be acknowledged, their satisfaction comes from watching the children of their nation grow and excel. In this they have an outstanding role model: Dr. Abreu, who would be content to let his 300,000-plus protégés occupy the limelight were it not for the insistence of the international media.

It’s somewhat ironic to speak of “unsung heroes” in a musical movement, but Fesnojiv would be nothing without all of  its people – administrators and teachers, as much as its most famous performers. It’s just another reminder that the challenge for those of us outside Venezuela isn’t musical, it’s human. Little will matter, let alone advance, until we get that right.

Roberto hosting a concert

6 thoughts on “The Legend of Bobby Z

  1. Mr. Govias, you have nailed it on the head again. I always believe there is a big difference between those that do a lot of work and let others receive the applause and those that need the spotlight. I know which leader I’d rather be, so thank you for reminding me. Sounds like you had a great experience!

  2. Pingback: One Year Later «

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