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The Thomas Edison of Music Education and Composition, Jon Deak: Creating Music with El Sistema, Part Eleven, Finis

Click here for Part Ten
Why am I so intent upon the definitive performance? It should be clear by now that the whole point of the Very Young Composers is to take these works as seriously as we take Beethoven, Mahler, Bartók. Without question, I know that all who have been involved during these last two weeks, not only agree with that philosophy, but have bent over backwards to try and help accommodate this new program
Sure, we have fun in these classes, certainly we play games, and surely these pieces are in transition themselves! But still, we experience them intensely as works of art; the composers themselves do. It has been noted above, how sensitive children are to the slightest variation in sound, the most controlled intensity.
There are many more issues to cover, many more people to thank, congratulate, accomplishments to recognize…
The concert is over!
The children have received diplomas from El Sistema, Dani and Diana and Vicyuly have thought of everything. I almost weep just thinking of how hard Dani has worked for this moment; indeed, how seriously all of El Sistema has been in supporting this effort, from Maestro José Antonio Abreu, Gustavo Dudamel, Maestro Valdemar Rodríguez, Diana Arismendi, Alfredo Rugeles, and all throughout. Richard and I share a deep moment, conceptual high-five. And the fantastic musicians, exhausted.
As an aside, I was so very befuddled by the riffling through of parts and by the fact that I had to conduct most of the time–poor Fernanda had to play some of my bass parts while I held the ensemble together. Anyway, Richard took it on himself to organize my scores between performances, otherwise I would have have absolutely been lost! And he had enough to do already. The amazing Gabriel Diaz playing cues, transpositions, everything on his viola. That’s just a iittle glimpse of the way we all worked together.
Hundreds of photographs, exchanging greetings with smiling parents, the wonderful Venezuelan hugs, gifts, addresses exchanged, instruments and equipment packed up.
And now we are driving back and I am sinking into an unbelievable postpartum state. I wanted it all to be just so perfect. I wanted it for them, so they would all be so empowered and proud of what they’d done.
Back at the hotel, I’m supposed to go to dinner with relatives of friends from New York. Lovely people, but I panic. I am absolutely going to fall to pieces right now. I feel like I am on the verge of a breakdown.
There is only one group of people who can help:The Abreu Fellows. I make my excuses and head for the outdoor restaurant. And they are there!!! Mark Churchill and all of them. They understand; they have been through all of this, have worked so hard for these children in their own programs, have seen their own lives transformed by the magic of El Sistema. Gradually they calm me down, put the whole in perspective for me, and I listen to their own stories; their own dreams and fears.
I know I keep saying: This is why I became a musician. But it’s true. I’ve been a “symphony orchestra junkie” my entire life, and now, here is a land where the orchestra is saving a whole society. Here is a template whereby I can begin to give back a tiny bit of the joy and blessing I’ve received from it my whole professional life.
* * * *
The next few days are filled with their own memorable experiences, visiting more nucleos–schools of El Sistema, where thousands of children, right before my eyes, are transformed into proud citizens and artists. There are meetings, one in particular, where Diana, Pedro, Dani, Rosa and I put together the foundations of a continuing program. I am so impressed with them. Pedro, in particular, puts together a five page essay, (Which I must translate for you here below) proposing a “National School for Young Composers” which is so cogent, I practically insist that they give him a job. He’s too valuable to run off to Hollywood and try to become another film composer.
On the plane back to New York, I read Pedro’s article again in the connecting flight lounge – the very same boarding area where I met Ikenna, that little boy, on my way to Caracas two weeks ago. Ikenna had colored on the cover of Diana’s essay. I wish he could be here to give his blessing to Pedro’s. But then, I gave him the colored pencils already. That was the important thing.
It’s been a magical trip.
–Jon Deak
Jon Deak chile-003.jpg
Jon Deak, born in the sand dunes of Indiana of East European parents, is a Composer, Contrabassist, and Educational pioneer. Educated at Oberlin College, the Julliard School, the Conservatorio di Santa Cecilia (Rome) and the University of Illinois, he joined the New York Philharmonic and served as its Associate Principal Bassist for many years, while continuing his professional composing, and studying with Pierre Boulez and Leonard Bernstein. During this time he also introduced ground-breaking performance techniques for the Contrabass, and in his orchestral writing, working with major orchestras across the country.
From 1994 – 97 he served as Composer In Residence (sponsored by Meet the Composer) with the Colorado Symphony under Marin Alsop, which is where he initiated the public school program now called The Very Young Composers (VYC).
With support from the New York Philharmonic and others, the VYC has grown steadily, winning a national award for excellence in 2004. The program has been introduced in Shanghai, Tokyo, and now in Venezuela, besides serving hundreds of children in eleven New York area Public Schools and such places as New England and Eagle County, Colorado. The New York Philharmonic has premiered 42 works for children, fully orchestrated by the children themselves, mostly under the ages of 13, as well as hundreds of chamber works in the public schools and libraries.


  1. John Falcone says

    Intensely moving story which will come in great use as I’m helping organize a similar program in Asturias, Spain this season. Two small quips: Is there a Part 6? The link for it brought me back to Part 5. Also, is Pedro’s 5-page essay available for viewing? Tons of thanks for such an enormous contribution and for sharing it with us all.

  2. jon deak says

    Thank you, Richard Kessler, for your care and skill in formatting and printing this.
    This is so useful, now as we begin our second year of this vast journey.

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