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Our Big Trip

Our Big Trip

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“You must play like you are the best in the world!” said the violin teacher. He sawed his bow back and forth with wild abandon, exaggerating self- confidence; his intentional silliness grabbed their attention while emphasizing the importance of playing with pride and conviction. The teacher, José Scolaro, was kind, playful and fearless, and he worked to develop these same qualities with the students. After leading them headlong into 4-octave major scales, knowing some of them had never tried more than two, he said, “What’s the worst that can happen? You won’t hurt yourself. You’ll survive.”

These violinists belonged to a newly formed 200-piece orchestra of young people from NYC and Venezuela rehearsing to perform with Gustavo Dudamel in Caracas in July. They had 31⁄2 days to prepare 11 pieces; rehearsals lasted as long as 9 hours per day. The New York delegation included 30 kids from the UpBeat NYC Children’s Orchestra, 4 from the Corona Youth Music Project and 5 from the Washington Heights Music Project. They were there by invitation of the Venezuelan president; the trip was sponsored by CITGO, with technical support from Fundamusical. The young Venezuelan musicians were from Núcleo San Agustin, Núcleo Guatire and the National Children’s Orchestra.

Jose’s teaching style was his own, but it incorporated elements common to all the Venezuelan instructors: a formidable work ethic, high artistic expectations and an unwavering belief in the ability of the kids to achieve. The Venezuelans’ attitude was that with enough time and will, anything is possible. It was the longest our kids had ever rehearsed, but after the first day they were beaming as they talked about how their new friends and stand-mates had offered help and encouragement. The bus ride back to the hotel that night had the feeling of a celebration. That excitement carried over to the following days, and our concerns about how the kids would deal with the intensive work fell away.

The overall experience has transformed our students’ perceptions of what is possible, both personally and as a group. They were immersed in an environment that demanded rigorous learning with peers who demonstrated high levels of personal and musical maturity; it was a first-hand introduction to a powerful culture of community and achievement. We hope they return to NYC empowered with a sense of possibility and responsibility to cultivate the beautiful spirit that embraced us all in Venezuela.