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    NewsLatin AmericaMusicians and the Government face off in a debate on the future of Colombian orchestras

    Musicians and the Government face off in a debate on the future of Colombian orchestras

    Gustavo Petro’s four-year term, many musicians thought last year, would be a good period for the bullerengue, the alabaos, the shawm, the llanera harps or the marimbas, in which the rich universe of Colombian popular music would have an equally dignified space. to the one that other musical genres have had. But in recent months something has sounded out of tune in the ears of these musicians. The scream that materialized in a tweet from the president on January 31, when wrote that his wife, Veronica Alcocer, had traveled to Venezuela with the Vice Minister of Culture, Jorge Zorro, to “see the Venezuelan orchestral system in classical music” and thus take off “this year the Colombian orchestral system.” Replicating that model doesn’t sound so good for these musicians.

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    Two days later, several of these musicians published an open letter to the president on the Change.org website, an initiative that today has more than 2,400 signatures. “We are writing to you to express our deep concern about the announcements that have been made regarding the creation of a system of symphony orchestras inspired by the Venezuelan Orchestra System,” says the letter signed by musicians, cultural managers, and teachers.

    “El Sistema”, as the model is called by more than 120 symphony orchestras in Venezuela in which thousands of children have participated, was years ago a symbol of pride for Chavismo and the home of renowned musicians such as Gustavo Dudamel, the new director Musical and artistic of the New York Philharmonic. The founder of El Sistema, Jose Antonio Abreu, was a UNESCO ambassador and Prince of Asturias Award for the Arts in 2008, and passed away in 2018. So why don’t Colombian musicians like this celebrated music education system?

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    In a 2007 photograph, Gustavo Dudamel conducts the Simon Bolivar Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela in San Francisco.Lea Suzuki (Getty Images)

    “It does not mean that we are against the European repertoire, or against symphony orchestras,” Maria Olga Pineros, a musician and professor at the Javeriana University of Bogota, explains to EL PAIS. “What I perceive in my colleagues is the desire that there be a broad musical umbrella, that includes all expressions, that budgets for everyone under a principle of equity”, she adds, clarifying that symphony orchestras usually have budget priority. A symphony in Bogota playing Beethoven’s ninth symphony is not a bad idea, she says, but she doesn’t understand why it would have preferential treatment over, for example, a choir from La Hormiga, Putumayo, that wants to stage a bambuco.


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    The idea of ​​importing the Venezuelan model is not new, explains Maria Errazuriz. From 1994 to 2005 she was the manager of the Batuta Foundation, a non-profit music education organization that is supported by the State. She has extensive experience in symphonic music education, and in the past she studied the musical model of the neighboring country.

    The copy was tried twice, says Errazuriz, and both times it failed. “The Ministry of Culture must find out about the causes of the two failures,” says Errazuriz in a column. He explains to El PAIS that it happened due to a combination of factors: the different approaches between Venezuelan and Colombian teachers; a very expensive model to maintain; a system that privileged professionalizing a potential Gustavo Dudamel over diverse musical education for all sectors.

    The musicians, they have insisted in various letters, prefer to strengthen the National Music Plan for Coexistence (PNMC) which for almost 20 years has recognized “the epistemological, methodological and pedagogical diversity of our music”, and which includes symphonic among its genres. . “Despite the difficulties and financial restrictions, the Plan has produced a convergence of people, regions, institutions and musical formations like never before, especially the wind bands, which are the main symphonic tradition of our country”, says Errazuriz.

    The debate from the side of the Ministry of Cultures

    The Government received letters, articles, editorials. Minister Patricia Ariza responded this week with a statement. “We respect and value their concerns,” she says, recalling that she is committed to strengthening the PNMC. But the proposal remains: “As President Gustavo Petro points out, this year the Colombian orchestral system will take off.”

    Two days later, Ariza clarified in an interview in El Espectador that the new project “is not done, it is in process”, and guarantees a participation table for all musicians who want to discuss it. “There will be some meetings with the people who have written letters, which have also been respectful,” says the minister. “The first thing I would tell you is that we are very clear that we are not Venezuela. That is a project of the orchestras that was very important in the history of Venezuela, but we do not intend to trace it. It is only an input ”, she adds.

    Juan Sebastian Ochoa, musician and researcher at the University of Antioquia, is not calm. “The discourse is ambivalent: they say a lot that they will agree and talk, and that the project is under construction, but they do not show any documents or talk,” he told EL PAIS. That the Venezuelan model is only an input does not leave him alone, nor does he insist on building the system instead of focusing on strengthening the PNMC. “In other words, we don’t understand anything, and we continue on high alert,” he says. Daniella Cura, a musicologist and art curator, agrees that some trust has been lost between the Ministry and concerned artists. “They always say that this is done with us but they do not summon us, and I am outraged that they ignore us when we have given them many respectful arguments; we have opened a debate at the height and they do not answer us, ”says her Cura.

    In interviews, Zorro has said that he admires Abreu and what he built in Venezuela. C when he came to the new government, several musicians feared that he was going to propose a system of orchestras like the one in the neighboring country. In November, during an event, he was asked if he was going to impose the Venezuelan system. “There will be no Venezuelan system in Colombia,” he replied. That is why the musicians got nervous when they saw him in January learning about the Venezuelan system.

    The participation table does not have a date yet. The Ministry, directed by Ariza hand in hand with Zorro, promises in different forums that it will be the Government of musical diversity. This score about the musical future of Colombia has not yet been finished writing.


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