in a big way…

not referring to my career, fortunately.

A quick aside, before I continue with a train of thought temporarily abandoned with the previous blog posting: it appears February will be “Down Under” month. I’ll be spending ten days in Brazil, working at Nucleo Neojibá in Salvador, Brazil, at the invitation of Ricardo Castro with whom I shared a panel at the London Southbank Symposium (previously reported on here). I’ll be conducting, consulting and teaching a substantial conducting course as part of my activities.

Then after 48 hours turnaround in Boston, I head a little further south and a trifle further east – to Cape Town, South Africa, for the second annual Cape  Festival, to serve as consultant, moderator, speaker and even répétiteur for the ten days of activities there as they launch their national el Sistema initiative. The director of the festival, Shirley Apthorp, is another fellow panelist from London, and I’m honoured and delighted to be taking part in the launch of a new national movement. Fesnojiv is an active partner, and the Millennium Quartet will be in attendance.

Therein lies a nice segue to the Parthian shot of the last entry: the issue of identity of national movements. When in Anaheim, the ’10 Fellows were fêted by Gretchen Nielsen and Leni Boorstin of the LA Phil, as well as Dalouge Smith of the San Diego Youth Symphonies. During a vigourous discussion at the table (our gracious hosts paid for alcohol) it was mentioned that the newest incarnation of El Sistema USA intended to revisit a fundamentals document in which many of the fellows (not I)  had invested much time . One fellow felt this might be redundant, and raised the question: “Who gets to make the rules?”, referring to criteria for inclusion or exclusion within the association.

This query brought a few thoughts to mind, the first being that if a fundamental document is not widely accepted, then it simply isn’t fundamental enough. It’s not a case of increasing specificity, but DECREASING it, to encompass ideals more so than details – resisting dogma, as Dalouge put it in a later communication.

But if rules are necessary, who should make them? The emerging problem with a democratic approach is that any such discussion becomes immediately dominated by the special interests of those seated at that particular table. No one wants to exclude themselves, and yet exclusions are essential. If everyone is part of the club, why bother having a club? By the same token, exclusion by preset criteria should never be viewed as a value judgment either (although sometimes exclusion isn’t such a bad thing. More relevantly, would Boys and Girls Clubs qualify under their current operating model? No, but they do important and valuable work too.)

Perhaps “who makes the rules?” is the wrong question to ask. The movement in North America is in its embryonic stages, and most nucleo leaders are more concerned with their day-to-day operations than crafting a national service organization. The discussion has only been important to el Sistema USA as an entity because they view it as  integral to their national relevance, since they lack the authority concomitant with the ability to levy or disburse funds. In this they would be well advised to look at the strategy of the South African initiative (full disclosure: I contributed to it, in small part) which sets the bar very high for creating a relevant organization that will operate within a near-identical or even MORE challenging fiscal context.

As more negative publicity unfolds around the situation with NEC, (fairly or unfairly, and the latter in my opinion), hopefully El Sistema USA will  examine how the current situation came to pass and take the opportunity presented by this crisis to start entirely afresh, rather than repeating the mistakes of the past.

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