By Carlos Garcia Rawlins
Crisvan Reyes suffers a type of bone cancer and has undergone unimaginable medical treatment at his young age of 11, including the amputation of his right arm. In spite of that, smiling and laughing, he makes jokes and teases other kids as he plays the drums during a rehearsal of the orchestra sponsored by the Alma Llanera Hospital Care Program. This is the last rehearsal before the program’s first anniversary concert.
The Alma Llanera Program is one of the most recent initiatives of Venezuela’s musical education program known as El Sistema, whose most famous alumnus is Gustavo Dudamel.
Barely a year old, the Alma Llanera Program is specifically for children who are going through medical treatment and are hospital-bound. It teaches them to play a musical instrument for the length of their stay, and allows them to continue afterward at one of El Sistema’s regular orchestras.
It was both surprising and moving to hear the profound effect that music has had in nine-year-old Emily Aponte, a cancer patient who has been in the program for four months. She told me, “I really enjoy music and feel better when I play. When they give me chemo, I imagine being at home playing my violin.”
“Your friend’s light bothers me,” Angel told me after being interviewed by our TV crew. Angel is just seven years old and says his right arm was amputated due to cancer. His vision is also very bad because he has cataracts, and the bright lights annoy him. But his undeniable happiness when he’s playing the cymbal, is simply touching.
Finally, after many rehearsals, the day of the anniversary concert arrived and I could see that the audience at the concert hall was excited.
Lights out, the function starts and tearful relatives offer endless rounds of applause. The children stopped being patients who are fighting for their lives, to become virtuoso musicians performing a repertoire of Venezuela’s folkloric music.