Saturday, March 13, 2010

On planning, repertoire and curriculum in El Sistema

One more generalization that I had been a bit uncomfortable with is the idea of curriculum.  Before coming here, I felt that in applying the idea of an El Sistema curriculum and a pre-designed repertoire list in the US would be like admiring the beautiful freedom of a bird and then starting to look for a golden cage to capture that freedom at home.

In the past weeks in Venezuela, I found I was not that lost in my idealism.  The word for curriculum (pensum) has come up just a couple of times in conversations, but I have heard a lot of "academic planning".  It makes sense.  In planning, the focus is on the larger goal. A curriculum gets easily caught in the procedures and the rules.

Here in Venezuela, academic planning starts in the local núcleos, then at a regional level, and then at a national level (I'll write more about organizational structures later).  Each local núcleo can create their own strategies to reach the common goal.  And everyone can assess if any particular strategy is working or not, and if not, it can be easily fixed of substituted by a strategy that has proven successful elsewhere.

In the case of the repertoire that El Sistema has been famous for, it turns out that there is no manual, mandate or official list of repertoire.   It gets determined on a local level, and local núcleo directors choose by following trends and examples from other núcleos or from the national selection ensembles in Caracas, like the Simón Bolivar or the Teresa Carreño Youth Orchestras.

My feeling is that the challenge is not creating a sound ideal curriculum, but creating a solid network based on human contact, gut feeling and support to others' efforts. With this, conversations about goals, strategies and respectful assessment will make this movement grow rapidly and strongly throughout the World.

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