As a teenager playing the double bass my first exposure to El Sistema was watching youtube clips of the incredible Venezuelan bassist Edicson Ruiz. Through Edicson’s videos I stumbled upon clips of conductor Gustavo Dudamel and the Simon Bolivar Orchestra. Gustavo and Edicson’s stories fascinated me and sparked my interest in El Sistema. I didn’t really understand what it was. All I knew was that it was deeply inspiring. The musicians in the videos I watched looked like they were having so much fun. I saw an enthusiasm and love I had never seen in classical music settings. I wanted to experience this energy first hand but I had no idea how, Venezuela was so far away from the small town in Norway where I lived. Then one day I heard that the Simon Bolivar Orchestra was on a tour of Norway and was playing in a town near me.
Discovering El Sistema
The concert was just as I had expected, full of electric energy, flaming passion and endless love. I almost jumped with glee when the lights turned off after the last piece was played. I knew what it meant, the best part was about to begin. When the lights turned on again 20 seconds later the whole orchestra had donned yellow, blue and red jackets and launched in to playing the encores. When the concert was over I was speechless. They had performed the music expertly but what really touched me was how they had played as a single humongous soul radiating confidence and purpose. When they played, each musician on stage seemed to enter a state of ecstasy, in perfect harmony with each other and with the music. I knew then, with every cell in body, that I needed to find that same magic in my music making.
Meeting Ron Davis Alvarez
A few years later, in 2015, I moved to Gothenburg to begin my Bachelor’s degree in classical double bass performance at the Academy of Music and Drama. I knew that Gothenburg had its own El Sistema nucleos so I went to a few rehearsals of a children’s orchestra that rehearsed in my academy but I wasn’t sure how I could get involved while being a full time student.
While researching study exchange possibilities I heard that a Venezuelan was being brought in to work for El Sistema Sweden. I met Ron Davis Alvarez on a cold, wet and dark winter evening, the day after he arrived in Sweden. I recognized in him the same passion and excitement that I had experienced in the Simon Bolivar concert, and when he asked me to help teach in the Dream Orchestra, an orchestra he had started for refugee and immigrant youth, I said yes right away.
Passion for teaching
At first it was completely overwhelming. I felt clueless and insecure. I had very little previous experience teaching yet Ron put me in charge of teaching cello, an instrument I could barely play a scale on. Despite the challenge I loved it! Over time I slowly began to feel more confident and learned how to adapt my teaching to the various abilities of my students. Even with their difficult backgrounds the youth in the Dream Orchestra had a seemingly insatiable hunger to learn and we all fed off of each other’s enthusiasm.
For the remaining two years of my studies in Gothenburg I continued to volunteer with Ron and the Dream Orchestra, teaching what ever instruments needed to be taught, taking care of administrative tasks, arranging for the donation of instruments, conducting and leading rehearsals when Ron was away and arranging songs for the orchestra to play (often songs from their home countries that the kids requested). I travelled to Greece to teach in Sistema Europe’s Youth Orchestra summer camp in Athens in 2017, conducted rehearsals with groups of more than 100 kids at a time in the Side by Side by El Sistema summer camp in Gothenburg in 2018 and attended three El Sistema Academies in Stockholm. It was exhilarating. During these two years I developed a passion for teaching, met numerous passionate and inspiring teachers to work with and learn from and experienced first hand how music can change lives.
To dream big
In the summer of 2018 I graduated from the Gothenburg Academy of Music and Drama, and am now living in Jerusalem, Israel, where I am doing a Master’s degree in classical music performance. I am still teaching and continuing to learn how to become a more compassionate, versatile and resourceful teacher. I don’t know where my music career will take me in the coming years but I am certain I will continue teaching and spreading enthusiasm and joy through music no matter where I am.
El Sistema, with its passion, love, discipline, attitude and energy has forever changed me and the way I see music. It has taught me to dream big and to strive tirelessly to achieve my goals. Tocar y Luchar!
Kai Jack, musician and music teacher in Jerusalem