Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Music and the Vernacular

By chance I tuned in a live radio broadcast of a Carnegie Hall event the other evening.  Clearly a fine ensemble, the orchestra was playing music that raised the question "why?"    Trying to figure out the "who" on the assumption that the two would turn out to be intertwined, I listened on to the end. 

Sure enough.  It was the Simon Bolivar Orchestra of Venezuela, comprised of musicians now in their late 20's, all products of El Sistema, Venezuela's famous music program for public school children, conducted by their friend and fellow Sistema graduate, the extremely gifted Gustav Dudamel.  I stayed on for the second half of the program, fascinated.  The music, mostly by Mexican composers, was admirably chosen, especially as it featured a large (11!) percussion section, who got to strut their stuff big time.

I know that people are trying to organize a program for American children, modeled on El Sistema.  I attended an event over the weekend showcasing some local children and was delighted and moved by them and by their families.  Needless to say, I love what music does to all of us.

But I wonder whether the well-meaning souls who are working so hard to get this together here in the US of A will have the good sense to start the children with our music, with their music; to avoid the all--too-common insecurity of American music teachers who feel obliged to start, not just with Europe, but with Europe of the 18th century, as if that alone defined music.

Many, many contemporary American composers have produced wonderful material that addresses that very problem very effectively.