Photo taken at the nucleo in Tabay, Merida State.
I was taking a flight recently when I witnessed a mini-drama unfold at the front of the aircraft. From my vantage seat in row 1 I could see the flight attendant doing a routine in-flight announcement… except for her, there was nothing routine about it. Despite the fact that she was concealed by the bulkhead, existing in the consciousness of the statistically-insignificant attentive minority solely as a disembodied voice, she was trembling with fear. At one moment her dread got the better of her and her litany collapsed in medias res, leaving one of those awkward, interminable, near puerperally pregnant stretches of dead air. Her colleague, standing beside her, offered a modicum of reassurance. “Take a deep breath,” she said, “you’re doing fine.”
Apparently Glossophobia, as it is known, is one of the most common of the clinical fears, and the presence of the supportive colleague further suggests that the attendant was a recent recruit taking her first turn at the PA system. Eventually, she finished the message – what it was, I cannot say. Like my fellow passengers, I strained momentarily to understand before conceding the battle to engine noise, with my continued focus prompted only by my interest in the phenomenon, and one thought in particular: too bad she wasn’t in el Sistema.
In my work I frequently hear the question: “What is the value of musical studies in everyday life?” Musicians tend to answer this question badly, resorting to generally valid but ultimately highly abstract rationales concerning the expansion of creative skills, non-linear thinking, etc. In general, if you can’t understand why music, among the other arts, is not just valuable but essential, no amount of research into cognitive benefits is really going to persuade you. But thanks to my work in Venezuela I have a least an additional answer now: confidence.
You can’t look at a performance of a Venezuelan youth orchestra without thinking, in the very least, these are bold individuals. They play, and as importantly, they move with tremendous assurance. Why is motion key? As a conducting teacher, I frequently see students physically paralyzed by their fear of “looking stupid,” even though the great psychological paradox of the craft is that practitioners generally look the most stupid when trying the hardest not to. It takes enormous confidence and self-possession to be willing to look stupid, to sublimate basic sociologically-derived survival instinct to the pursuit of the art – and yet these musicians do it freely and comfortably. And they look anything but stupid.
I doubt it’s inherent. I doubt it can be ascribed to some cheap stereotypical generalizations of “Latin character.” It’s the effect of performing early and often, of trying and failing and succeeding hand-in-hand with peers. It’s no surprise then that Improved Confidence was witnessed in the children of 100% (yes, 100%) of the respondents to the Scottish Government evaluation of the national Sistema initiative.
The value of this confidence is manifest in any industry, be it at the job interview, or at the microphone at the front of a 200-seat aircraft. We live in a performance-based world, and the ability to stand and deliver under pressure, under scrutiny, is paramount. The value of this confidence, for those growing up in privation, could very well be the difference between success and failure.