November 19th, 2013


Serendipity in Seoul: Youth Orchestra of Caracas

My last two days in Korea, I spent on my own in Seoul. estheruth left on Sunday afternoon to go home and start her workweek the next morning. She had taken me around one palace, and told me where to find another palace, near city hall, so I wandered over there later in the afternoon. $1 admission, and a free museum on the grounds.

No museum for me, though, because it was closed for renovations. The palace buildings were beautiful, and sunset was approaching, when I heard lots of musical instruments being warmed up or practiced, so I went over to see what was going on. People in suits, large numbers of children dressed formally and carrying violins and trombones and cellos and clarinets, rows of chairs being set up in a space between two palace buildings. I could see a stage being prepared but that area was cordoned off and I couldn't tell if this was a public event; the palace grounds were supposed to close at sunset, less than an hour away.

After going to see more of the palace grounds and buildings, I came back around to where the musicians were and noticed lots of people were sitting or standing on the stairs and raised floor behind the chairs, with nobody checking tickets or anything of the sort. I also noticed some people with shirts labeled "Youth Orchestra of Caracas".

Venezuela has a national government-sponsored system over over 100 youth orchestras, something they've been doing since the 1970s. These orchestras tour the world, with the large majority of their members kids from very poor backgrounds. The system pays for their musical education and their touring, and in many cases the government buys their instruments for them. When they play a show in a foreign country, they usually incorporate local musicians, and a local youth orchestra.

I'd never seen a Venezuelan youth orchestra. At first I just waited around out of curiosity to see what the show was going to be like, before I went to find dinner (I was hungry). Then they started, and I stayed for the two hour show, and wished it wasn't ending when it did.

P.S. I got one more video: Here's them covering a West Side Story tune.