Monday, June 19, 2017

Music For Venezuela

"In its 42 years, El Sistema somehow managed to keep an impartial position. It has stayed that way until today."
"He [violist Armando Canizales] played for the love of it."
"They asked me if the boy [who was shot to death during a May protest in Caracas against the government] was in my orchestra. I felt impotent, like I had lost my son."
Ollantay Velasquez, director, Simon Bolivar Musical Foundation orchestra

"We must stop ignoring the just cry of the people suffocated by an intolerable crisis."
"I raise my voice against violence. I raise my voice against repression."
Guastavo Dudamel, Venezuelan orchestra conductor, Los Angeles Philharmonic

"I remembered my friend Armando. I have spent ages now playing [instrumental music] and living on the streets, and I see that so many talented Venezuelans have had to eat from the trash."
Wuilly Artaga, 23, violinist, Caracas, Venezuela
Musicians of El Sistema, the state-sponsored classical music program in Venezuela, paid tribute in Caracas last month to Armando Cañizales, a viola player who was killed during a protest. Credit Miguel Gutierrez/European Pressphoto Agency

They speak of the tragedy of a young life, sacrificed in a nation's agony of government ineptitude that has led a country rich in oil but poor in administrative capacity that has led the nation to penury and its people to desperate efforts to survive with little access to adequate food, medical supplies and the necessities of everyday living in an economy that the government has allowed to dwindle dangerously close to total collapse.

The political mess that Venezuela has imposed upon its population is wholly untenable. Even those segments of the population who had drawn benefits from the socialist government are now decrying its wholesale incapacity to govern. At public hospitals marches are held by doctors and nurses demanding supplies for their clinics, now void of drugs and elemental bandages and tools to enable them to provide for the needs of the ill.

Food shortages have become so acute that even entitled police officers themselves sharing the experience inherent in empty grocery shelves are increasingly questioning how the government is managing its conflict with the ongoing protests. And now it is Venezuela's classical musicians, who have become involved; music students drawn from the barrios and taught to love and play music in an establishment financed by the state where for four decades hundreds of thousands of talented musicians have emerged.

In better times, national pride rested benevolently on the musicians that came out of the musical foundation that Venezuelans speak of as El Sistema. And then, 18-year-old Armando Canizales, talented violist, set aside his beloved instrument, determining that he too should let his presence be seen, his voice heard, at protests against the government in view of the nation's agonizing descent into poverty.

Among teenagers who had been tossing rocks at soldiers, Armando Canizales suddenly found himself alone; the rock-throwing teens had retreated and he moved forward. "When he fell, I didn't even know it was him", said fellow musician, 19-year-old William Hernandez, of his friend who had been fatally shot to death last month. Since then, orchestra members have been playing memorial concerts for Mr. Canizales, while denouncing government officials.

And other musicians now follow the dead young viola player's example going directly toward the front lines of protesters, instruments in full view. As did Wuilly Artreaga, 23, violin to his shoulder, case strapped to his back, the helmet he wore ablaze with the colours of the Venezuelan flag as he played the national anthem. His reward was to have tear gas canisters exploding toward  him until other protesters dragged him away from the security forces.

Wuilly Arteaga, a friend of Mr. Cañizales’s, played the violin in front of riot police officers during a protest against President Nicolás Maduro in Caracas in late May. Credit Luis Robayo/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

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