Strings of social transformation

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Sunday, January 12, 2014

IT'S another day at the orphanage—perhaps sunny—and music lessons are about to start.

Teachers call for the children and in response, a whole bunch start to make their way to class albeit dragging their violins against the floor.

It’s not the best way to handle musical instruments. But nevertheless, Sistemang Pilipino president and chief executive officer Lianne Sala and program director Jiovanni Tabada like what they see to begin with; interested youth and a shot at instilling a passion for the classical arts in them.


“The kids, when they started, just dragged their violins. But now I’ve seen them take good care of their instruments with love and care,” shared Jiovanni how over time, the
children learned to love the art.

Jiovanni, after receiving his basic music training at the Salvador and Pilar Sala Foundation, was awarded a full grant to study at the Royal Conservatory of the Hague in the Netherlands. After having completed his bachelor’s degree in 2007 and his master’s degree in 2009 with distinction, he is now home to contribute to Sistemang Pilipino. Sistemang Pilipino is “a non-stock, non-profit organization dedicated to providing world-class music education and performance opportunities for Filipino children and youth, with a special focus on those from under-served communities,” stated in its official website.

Lianne, meanwhile, is responsible for bringing the program here in the Philippines after undergoing a four-month music immersion program in North and South America back in 2012. The trip included her attending an international symposium to observe how other similarly inspired programs operate in different countries around the world.

The program is “inspired by ‘El Sistema’—the pioneering movement for social justice through music which began in Venezuela in 1975 and is now present in over 40 countries around the world.”

For Cebuano children who have just started the music program, it definitely is a tall order to grasp the concept of what classical music is all about, especially living in a world drenched in pop culture. But Lianne has dreams far more than children merely able to play classical music.

“In Venezuela, the government funds El Sistema as a social project, not a cultural one,” she shared and cites numbers how the South American nation published evidence of crime rates dropping partly attributed to El Sistema.

“We are not attached to the idea of the children becoming musicians, but we want them to end up as servant leaders that are able to listen to the voice of conscience; to go through a holistic transformation,” Lianne stated. “For us, that is success,” added Jiovanni.

Officially launched in April of last year, Sistemang Pilipino considers its first year a huge blessing. “We hope to hold at least two concerts this year during summer and Christmas. We also hope to do school concerts to be able to share our mission and form audiences,” shared Lianne.

Holding their office at the SOS Children’s Village at Talamban, Cebu City, Sistemang Pilipino currently trains a children’s choir of about 40 members, a violin group consisting of 11 children and an advanced string ensemble made up of teachers and trainers.

During its first year, Sistemang Pilipino already pulled a few heart strings. The group would like to acknowledge the Ramon Aboitiz Foundation Inc., for donating the group’s first 12 violins. Musicians from all over the world have caught wind of this movement in the country and were moved to action. Like violinist and guest teacher Noel Martin based in Texas, United States, who raised money for the program here and donated 11 violins with the help of his family and friends.

Both Lianne and Jiovanni have a positive outlook on how the program will turn out.

Jiovanni believes that although training the children to achieve a professional musical skill-set might take years, the individual’s holistic transformation is more imminent.

“If there’s one thing, we want to call for public support,” Jiovanni said. “We hope for Sistemang Pilipino to expand in 10 years and be able to spread this awareness and knowledge for classical music.”

“If it weren’t for this program, my friends and I would’ve continued snatching until now,” stated one of the program’s members in a video testimonial. Indeed, children may drag violins and struggle to master the art of playing music at the start. But to hear this piece end with the note of sweet salvation through social transformation is priceless.

Such a change, through teaching classical music, is what Sistemang Pilipino strives for.

Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on January 13, 2014.


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