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Venezuelan music program inspires Cebuana violinist; holds benefit concert to adopt same initiative in Cebu

CEBU, Philippines – Violinist and teacher to young students of her craft Lianne Sala has for a long time been part of the development of classical music in Cebu. The youthful and vibrant Cebuana began teaching violin at the Peace Philharmonic Philippines Foundation (PPPFI) in November of 2007, and has a litany of achievements including volunteer work, all in the name of spreading the transformative power of music and promoting interest towards the rich classical genre, which is sadly still not mainstream in our parts of the world despite consistent proof that Filipinos do excel in it.

It was in one of the workshops she organized for the teachers of PPPFI on “Music Pedagogy and Conducting” back in October 2009 wherein one of their revered invited speakers showed the teacher trainees, Lianne included, a video documentary of a countrywide music program in Venezuela known as El Sistema. “That was the turning point for me. It had a deep impact on us teachers, most of us being products of PPPFI’s scholarship program, very much similar to El Sistema. It was at this point that my consciousness for what is possible through music expanded,” she says.

Lianne began sharing the documentary to friends around Cebu, in hopes of finding a way to revive and maintain an orchestra development program here. Towards the end of 2010, she expressed her wish to the PPPFI administration to go on a one-year sabbatical from teaching, so she can focus on advanced studies with violin virtuoso Maestro Gilopez Kabayao, and also find time to observe El Sistema in Venezuela and North America. Shortly after, it was announced to her and her fellow teachers that PPPFI would cease its music education by March 2011. “The mission of PPPFI to create the next generation of music teachers for Cebu had been fulfilled. It was our turn to continue on our own,” Lianne says.

This year, Lianne is finally jumpstarting a project that will hopefully see El Sistema replicated in Cebu, and if successful, to other parts of the Philippines. But what exactly is El Sistema?

This outreach program in music education began 35 years ago in Caracas. It has been through the support of ten national governments, focusing on the protection of childhood through training, rehabilitation and prevention of criminal behavior. More than 2,000,000 Venezuelan youths have passed through this program since its inception, and at present, it caters to 250,000 children in that country each year.

The program is said to have been transforming Venezuelan youths casino from “a life of crime and difficulty to lives of musicians making a difference.” More than 70% of the children in the program belong to the poverty level. Out of these kids, the program has created one of the leading orchestras in the world, the Simon Bolivar Orchestra, and one of the premiere conductors of our time, Gustavo Dudamel.

El Sistema has since inspired at least 25 countries around the world to take on

the same initiative for their youth. It’s our music-loving nation’s turn to get into the movement too, but Lianne simply cannot accomplish it alone. To launch this project of a music program for the youth of Cebu, she has organized a concert-for-a-cause featuring some of the most promising young musicians in our country.

The concert, dubbed “Sistemang Pilipino: Transforming Lives through Music”, is happening this Thursday, January 26, 7:30pm, at the Cebu Metropolitan Cathedral.

Performers include Jimmy Tagala Jr., who at age 14, became first place winner at the National Music Competition for Young Artists (NAMCYA) for the violin category. He repeated his victory just last year in the same competition. If that’s not impressive enough, this child prodigy was also the youngest, at 15 years old, to be accepted into the 2006 Asian Youth Orchestra which toured six countries.

The second performers call themselves the Quartetto Espressivo of the St. Scholastica’s College String Quartet. This group won first prize in the NAMCYA Chamber Music Category. Violinists Brian, Sara and cellist Gerry all hail from Cebu where they started as scholars of the Salvador and Pilar Sala Foundation, Inc. through the Cebu Youth Symphony Orchestra Development Program. Brian and Sara were also recipients of scholarship grants from the Arts Council of Cebu. While their other member, violinist Rey Casey is a product of the Philippine Research for Developing Instrumental Soloists based in St. Scholastica’s College. They are all members of the Manila Symphony Orchestra.

Also part of the line-up is the Peace Philharmonic Philippines Youth Ensemble, which began as a ten-year orchestra development program of the Salvador and Pilar Sala Foundation from 1990-2000 (products of this program are now spread throughout Cebu and the world as teachers, musicians, and at the very least, appreciators of classical music).

Lianne, of course, will also perform at the concert and delight the audience with her violin pieces.

The concert is free and open to the public, but the goal of the event is to raise P600,000 from kindhearted souls who wish to donate. Lianne will use the amount for immersion and learning in countries where El Sistema is successful and active.

She plans to participate in the first ever El Sistema Symposium in Los Angeles from January 30 to February 1, 2012, called “Take A Stand.” Immediately after the symposium, she hopes to be able to observe and volunteer at different El Sistema-inspired programs around North and South America until April 30, 2012.

Upon her return from the three-month immersion, she promises to work on the implementation of a sustainable music education and performance system for Cebu and the rest of the Philippines, “in partnership with all individuals and institutions who are aligned with the values and mission of this project.”

Organizers state that for those who want to contribute, they can bring a check to the concert written out to the Ramon Aboitiz Foundation, Inc. For inquiries, one may contact Lianne M. Sala at 0922 491 8743 or email at lianne_sala@yahoo.com.

Lianne’s cause is eagerly supported by the Ramon Aboitiz Foundation, Inc., Archdiocesan Commission for the Cultural Heritage of the Church, Cebu Metropolitan Cathedral, Marco Polo Plaza and Maverick Ideas.

(The Freeman) January 24, 2012

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