Take a Stand, Day 2 Highlights (i.e. getting out of the traffic)

February 1, 2012

The end of the day’s performance of the Simon Boliver Symphony Orchestra with Gustavo Dudamel performing Mahler’s Symphony 7  matched the opening talks this morning by noted author Eric Liu and the ever witty and entertaining Bard College President, Leon Botstein. All were filled with hope, inspiration, joy and a vision forward for how we think about music and its transformative power for social change.

The morning began with Eduardo Mendez and Rodrigo Guerrero from Venezuela sharing stories about the birthplace of El Sistema.

They said not to be daunted by a lack of funding, that we should tap into whatever resources we do have available. Fundraising continues to be one of the most pressing issues for El Sistema programs in the US because here we do not receive governmental funding, like Venezuela. A very useful session today was led by LA Phil Director of Campaigns and Special Initiatives, Mary Deissler, and I include here some ideas from that session.

Fundraising Truths

1. You are not entitled to support, you must earn it.

2. There is no magic.

3. Fund-raising is creating relationships and friends (she calls fund-raising “friend-raising”)

4. We are in sales.

5. You don’t get if you don’t ask.

6. Don’t wait for the right moment.

7. Peer-to-Peer is better.

8. It takes time and planning.

9. Prospects and donors are not cash crops waiting to be harvested.

Principles of Fundraising

1. Never ask a stranger for $.

2. Cultivate before asking.

3. Think of the donor’s need.

4. Ask for support for what you need.

5. Personalize your solicitation.

6. Raise $ from inside out.

7. And from top down.

8. Make the case larger than the organization.

9. Develop a strategy you can accomplish (she said to under promise and over deliver).

10. Treasure your volunteer leadership.

One little tidbit of data that I found interesting that she shared is that 73 percent of donations come from individuals, not foundations or corporations. Food for thought…

Author Eric Liu of “Guiding Lights” as well as “Gardens of Democracy” posed these questions to us as teachers:

Who has influenced you?

And how have you passed this on?

We can use these answers to deepen our reflections about how we think and approach teaching. To be able to transform our teaching practice he offered five themes that he recognized in great teachers. Perhaps the one that resonated the most for me was”Receive before you transmit” which asks that we really listen with our full bodies to our students so we can observe who that student really is. This then can help us understand how to frame our response. Importantly, he views Sistema more as a story of citizenship rather than music or education or the arts, and that we have a responsibility to one another to be a part of offering a solution to the problems we face. He summed it up nicely by saying, “You’re not stuck in traffic. You are the traffic” if we don’t work to make things better for kids.

Leon Botstein is one of the most entertaining and intelligent speakers I’ve ever heard. He began by saying we don’t have to be concerned with importing Sistema from Venezuela. We just have to emulate it. The key to music making in general that he encouraged us to remember is that it is giving the opportunity for us to be makers of art rather than producers of art. We are consumers who need instant gratification, and a lesson of music making is that it is more enjoyable to make music rather than buy it.  Music, he added, gives delayed gratification through hard work.

Speaking of gratification and hard work, I attended a performance of the Simon Boliver Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela to finish the day. The LA Phil is doing an ambitious Mahler Project, and tonight the 7th Symphony was featured and performed brilliantly by Venezuela’s flagship orchestra for El Sistema.  Most impressive for me was that conductor Gustavo Dudamel did not use a score, which in my mind gave a true feeling of risk and give and take in that risk between him and the orchestra and their playing responsibilities. The young musicians played with such fearlessness and abandon and the resulting experience was really something not usual or typical in classical performances. The audience went absolutely nuts with boisterous cheers and cries of sheer and pure joy for the performance. The hope of classical music, of extraordinary music making, of wondrous risk taking, of citizenship, and of being human all came together, getting us out of traffic and really offering beauty, magnificent expression, and sincere hope for the future using music as the vehicle.



–Gustavo Dudamel, conductor of the LA Phil

–Eric Liu and Leon Botstein

–Eduardo Mendez and Rodrigo Guerrero



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