Geoff Bennett:

Andres Gonzalez is a conductor, musician, and advocate for youth music education.

He was trained from a young age through El Sistema, a highly regarded music program in Venezuela, before moving to the U.S. He has played for several orchestras across the country and mentors at Play On Philly, providing music education to underserved students in the Philadelphia area.

Tonight, he shares his Brief But Spectacular take on how music empowers communities.

Andres Gonzalez, Musician and Teacher: For me, making music is joyful. When we become professionals in music, we forget that part, the joyful part.

I grew up in El Sistema project in Venezuela. It’s is a free tuition program in classical music training that provides access to instrument, classes, and ensemble experience to children in the country. My mom and my dad was also part of El Sistema.

And I start conducting my first performance right before I turned 3 years old in front of the children’s orchestra in my hometown. My dad taught me the conductor protocol, how to get into the stage, how to bow.

Being part of El Sistema for so many years, that’s my family. The same group of kids, we were playing together for over 20 years. When I moved to the U.S., I started looking for community-based music programs, and I found that Play On Philly was also looking for a new music director. Play On Philly is an organization that provides transformative music training experiences to children in the area of Philadelphia.

POP’s mission mirrors El Sistema advocacy for social justice. It felt like it was an extension of my work in Venezuela. Over 90 percent of the students identify as a student of color, and we as a community of color have been lacking access to this type of education historically.

There are so many barriers that have created lack of access to this type of education, not only in the U.S., in the entire world. One of the ways that we are removing those barriers is providing free tuition classical music training in orchestra and ensemble setting.

The most capable teachers in the city are teaching our students every week. We also provide instrument loans at no cost for our families and also private lessons.

When I see a student gain confidence after a performance, I feel very rewarded as an educator and as a conductor that all the effort that we put throughout the preparation, it paid off. Access to music education and arts in general could be transformative for the students, but also for the people around them, like their family, like their peers.

They can translate that into life skills. You need to dedicate a lot of time to learn to play the violin, for example. You need to develop patience. It’s really hard to play every single note on tune, for example.

So those are skills that you learn through the music. We want them to see their life in a different way through the lens of the music.

My name is Andres Gonzalez, and this is my Brief But Spectacular take on how music empowers communities.

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