It’s Stradurday! Again!

Cover of Strad Magazine March 2011

Cover of Strad Magazine March 2011


At some point in the closing remarks of my keynote in London ON two weeks ago I uttered something to the effect of: “The tremendous irony is that we’re rushing to emulate el Sistema’s practice from 10 years ago while they’re rushing to emulate the best of ours.” This was apparently highly provocative, although it was certainly not the most controversial thing I said during my speech. (That particular philosophical bomb deserves its own blog posting.)I also thought it was fairly self explanatory: the same teaching tools and techniques in Venezuela that are admired and adopted by those with conventional conservatory training are perpetually developing and advancing, if not being entirely superseded, with the help of master teachers from the same western European pedagogical tradition.

The “paper orchestra” concept, that of starting a group of children on proto-instruments made of papier-mâché, falls into a particularly interesting place. It was originally a stop-gap measure, a short term solution in a Venezuelan núcleo that had too many children and not enough instruments. It’s not widely accepted or adopted across Venezuela, and the need for such a solution has significantly lessened as the Fundabol has acquired more resources. That said, the idea has proved fairly popular in North American programs, where having a paper orchestra seems to have become a claim to Venezuelan legitimacy. This isn’t surprising, given that it’s one of the most distinctive tools and certainly the most easily replicated in the early stages of programs – but that doesn’t mean it’s always suitable or appropriate.

So, should your el Sistema program use paper violins? This was the question posed in my most recent article in The Strad, and I’m now able to make the full text available online. In short (spoiler alert!), it depends, it depends, it depends. There are definitely some potential pedagogical benefits to a practice that arose out of need, but much of the value for students relies on the context and the teaching objectives…just like any other tool. The question can’t be answered with yes or no; if there’s a lesson, it’s that everything we do demands significant reflection and ongoing evaluation – one Venezuelan value I think should be adopted universally and without hesitation.

4 thoughts on “It’s Stradurday! Again!

  1. Hello my name is Chris Tsonias from Greece and i see this article about the paper violin…

    This idea is mine and i have already make all the necessary for the patent….

    I have write in the forum violin for my idea and i have photos and video in the web …until September of 2010 …

    Please see all this here…

    and in maestronet violin forum …and for guitar in ……and i make and piano ….and flute …and not only from paper …but from many alternative material…( cloth,synthetic leather…etc)

    Please write about all this thinks right ….

    IS not good to still my work….and give it to the other persons….

    i WAIT to see what you make about it….


    1. Chris,

      Thank you for writing. I was very interested to see your work. I think you did not understand that the violins I wrote about in my article do not make any sound, they are all silent. As far as I can tell, no one is stealing your work, but if you feel that one of the organizations I wrote about has used your designs without your permission, you should contact them directly. I hope that helps you.

  2. Thanks for the answer

    Yes i don’t read good enough the article.

    The paper violin with out real sound is an old idea and not mine.
    My music instruments from paper and other alternative material with which you can play music is my idea.

    Since there is no copying of my idea and my work, I have not any requirement of anybody.

    I guess I should apologize.

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