Ben on Tour

Venezuela - 2005

About a year ago my nephew *** den Haas, Dutch ambassador in Venezuela, phoned me and told me in a very enthusiastic way, about the wonderful musical youth-scene in Venezuela.
 *** is a real music-lover but I thought his enthusiasm was a bit exaggerated. He told me about the many youth orchestras and about the great work Maestro Jose Antonio Abreu is doing over there. When he told me that great conductors like Sir Simon Rattle and Claudio Abbado came to Venezuela to work with the top-talent of these youth orchestras I became more and more interested. He asked me if I was interested to come over and do a master class for trombonists from this organization.
During the last 15 years, Master classes and tours made me go to many places in the world but I had never been in Latin-America before so this idea sounded like music to my ears. 

 Part of the course participants in the Hilton-hotel garden in Caracas.

After being quite ill (the flu) and having only a short time to recover I was of to Venezuela on Monday March 21. There are no direct flights from Amsterdam to Caracas so I had to fly to Paris and from Paris to Caracas. A rather long trip but I tried to use this to relax and get some of my energy back. 
On Caracas airport, *** was waiting for me. I directly experienced the advantage of having diplomatic contacts and power. Customs was no problem and within an hour we arrived at the residence of the Ambassador where I was going to stay during my visit.

The beautiful residence of the Dutch Ambassador in Caracas.

*** and his wife Joke made me feel very welcome. I was still full of question marks about the upcoming event. In the evening two men, from the organization, were going to visit us with the latest news about the class and possible concert.
Leonardo Mendez, coordinator of the brass in the organization told me what they had in mind for me. He thought some 40 trombonists would show up and my plan to do a tutti warm-up, giving master classes and ensemble training would be great for the students.

Warm up session from 9 till 10,30 in the morning in the Hilton/Caracas hotel.

After a difficult night, I always suffer terribly from jetlags; Leonardo picked me up from the residence to go to the location where I was supposed to give the class. I was very surprised to see we went to the Hilton hotel where we had big auditorium in the basement to give the class in. When I entered the room I faced more the 50 trombonists sitting in half a circle waiting for me. A wonderful group of trombonists in the age from 8 till 24 with some of their teachers, very eager to learn as much as possible in the nine days I was going to work with them.
I started the session with some introduction about myself, then breathing exercises, daily-routines and a master class with piano. Although the first day is mostly a bit difficult, I felt directly great interest in my ideas. Also I noticed there was quite a high level op trombone-playing among the students. The last part of the day we played some trombone-ensemble pieces I brought with me and with a good feeling I returned to my hosts at the residence.

Some of the beauties from Venezuela on trombone including my translator, Elena Maria.

Through my conversation with *** and Joke den Haas; but also with Leonardo Mendez and one of my translators Rodrigo, I started to learn more and more about the organization. 30 years ago JOSE ANTONIO ABREU founded the Symphony Orchestra Simon Bolivar and the National Symphony Youth Orchestra (NSYO). The success of NSYO under Abreu’s direction led to the establishment of youth orchestras in other Venezuelan states, which has grown into the National System of Children and Youth Orchestras of Venezuela, under the auspices of a State Foundation with the name “FESNOJIV”. This now involves more the 400.000 Venezuelans, grouped in 120 children’s orchestras, 60 youth orchestras and a network of choirs, with musical training starting from the age of two. This National System includes workshops in which children learn to build and repair instruments, special programs for children with disabilities or learning difficulties, and specialist centers or institutes for phonology, audiovisuals and higher musical education. The System is explicitly oriented towards the lower-income social strata and has been described as "a social movement of massive dimensions that works using music as the instrument that makes the social integration of different Venezuelan population groups possible". On one of my last days in Caracas I was invited for a tour through one of these wonderful schools they have. I was completely positively and emotionally shocked with what I encountered there; what a dedication and love for children and music. All the teachers I saw working there come from within this organization and only give positive energy to the students. The quality of the ensembles I heard was amazingly high and brought me several times to tears.

Brothers, sisters, nephews; with other words a very talented family on trombone.

Back to my class;
During the 9 days I worked with the group the atmosphere became better and better. My ideas about breathing in combination with my vocal approach to trombone-playing were very well received and the level of playing became higher. Some of the students are already on a very high level and only needed little help to improve.

Some of the trombonists in action during an ensemble rehearsal.

I was very happy to see the trombone playing in Venezuela is quite modern with a good slide technique and good intonation. The musical talent of the students of course differs from student to student but there were some very good players among them.

These 4 boys form a great trombone-quartet.

The last day we planned a concert with trombone-choir music with me as both conductor and soloist. We prepared a one hour concert with very diverse repertoire in different settings. The concert was very well received and a big success for all of us.

Carlos, besides Echardy one of my helpers, Obeed a wonderful bass trombonists and a young tenor trombonist who played a super "Improvisation" by Crespo for me.

During the course I was already invited to return to Venezuela to do more classes like:
-To work with all the teachers involved in the Youth-system, so they all will have the same ideas and direction.
-Do more master classes and conduct the brass ensemble of the organization.

There was also some time to see the more beautiful places in Caracas.
*** and Joke were super hosts!

One of the wonderful diners at the residence, here with
William de Baets of the Belgium Ambassy, his wife, Joke and *** den Haas and Henk van Twillert, the famous Dutch saxophone player who also was in Caracas for a master class.

I like to thank the Dutch Ambassador, *** den Haas, for making this course possible, both *** and Joke for their wonderful hospitality and all the people from the “FESNOJIV” organization for their wonderful support during this event. Of course I like to thank the students for their warm interest in me and my art and I hope to see my friends again as soon as possible.

Ben van Dijk
 April 2005



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Bass trombonist of the Rotterdam Conservatory "Codarts" Ben is professor at the Rotterdam Conservatory "Codarts. He plays exclusively "Thein" tenor-bass and contrabass trombones.
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