Table Speech

Power of Music that Changes Society

September 13, 2017

H. E. Mr. Seiko Ishikawa
Ambassador of the Bolivarian Republic of
Venezuela to Japan

 I am a long-serving Ambassador of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela to Japan. Even in my 13th year as Ambassador, I must say I still struggle with Japanese language, such as homophones. Let me apologize beforehand if my Japanese doesn’t sound right in some parts of this speech.

 Venezuela is located at the opposite side of the earth, on the northern coast of South America. Blessed with abundant natural resources, the country incorporates the Amazon basin, numerous islands in the Caribbean Sea and the Andean mountain chain. Venezuela is one of the most racially mixed countries with rich cultural diversity in Latin America and Mestizo Venezuelans, like me, account for 60% of the country’s population today.

 Venezuela is widely known for the world’s largest petroleum reserves. Researchers of a U.S. institute estimate that the area could yield twice as much petroleum as previously thought. Our geographical location allows seaborne crude oil transport to the world’s largest oil consumer, the U.S.A., within just several days.

 Let me introduce three features of Venezuela. First is its vast nature. Venezuela has a long coastline along the Caribbean with more than 130 islands. The total land area is 2.5 times as large as Japan. The west part has 5,000-meter-high peaks, including Pico Bolivar, accessible by the world’s highest and longest cable car. Further west, we have Lake Maracaibo which is the largest lake in South America. It also earned a place in the Guinness World Records for being the most electric place on Earth, with an average of 280 lightning strikes per hour. The Guiana Highlands are in the south where more than 60 table-like mountains called “Tepuis” are found. From the largest flat top peak Auyantepui gushes down the Angel Fall which is the world’s highest waterfall.

 The second feature I want to introduce is the world’s highest quality Venezuelan cacao beans also popular here in Japan, especially among ladies, for its high concentration of polyphenols. Our largest export counterpart is Japan where the majority of chocolate manufacturers use Venezuelan cacao beans. I am also proud to say that almost half of the award-winning chocolates at the prestigious International Chocolate Awards held every year in London use our cacao beans.

 Now the third feature I want to highlight is El Sistema, a music education model launched in 1975 by maestro José Antonio Abreu. Known as the Venezuelan miracle, this state-funded social organization provides classical music education through symphony orchestras and choirs and promotes collective activity. It is a free-of-charge social welfare program to help children learn cooperation and discipline with a goal to instill a feeling of motivation, pride and hope, regardless of their economic circumstances. This program has changed the minds and lives of so many children of all ages and physical conditions. Last year, a terminally ill child had made his long-wished dream come true as he played the violin with an orchestra on stage, two months before he passed away. “Inclusion” is the key word for El Sistema, making sure everybody has the same opportunities to participate in society. One dramatic example is the choral ensemble White Hands Choir in which special-needs children sing and hearing-impaired children with white-gloved hands perform choreographic movements. El Sistema has been successful not only in producing globally renowned musicians, including the young conductor Gustavo Dudamel, but also in saving many children from a life of delinquency and crime by providing them a positive environment that fosters personal and academic achievement. As such, El Sistema has gained positive evaluations from organizations such as UNESCO and the Inter-American Development Bank. To date, more than 50 countries, including Japan, have created El Sistema inspired centers.

 The Friends of El Sistema Japan was founded in 2012 and launched the Children’s Orchestra and Chorus program in the cities of Soma of Fukushima Prefecture and Otsuchi of Iwate Prefecture that had suffered devastating damages caused by the Great East Japan Earthquake in 2011. I am also excited to say the White Hands Choir has been successfully launched in Tokyo this year and will actually make a debut next month on October 22nd when they perform with Venezuelan musicians and the Soma Children Chorus. El Sistema is also effective for people in different settings and life stages. We are currently working to start this program among retired people to make them stay socially connected and active. Since we launched the program in Japan, we have been conducting research every year with universities, such as Aoyama Gakuin University and Keio University. Research results clearly show that children who joined this music education program spent more time communicating with their parents and developed a strong sense of independence and self-affirmation.

 Today, I have introduced three features of Venezuela in my speech. Please come and enjoy the music of El Sistema in Tokyo on October 22nd. You can also get chocolate at convenience stores all over the town so please enjoy the taste. But to enjoy our vast natural resources, you have to travel to Venezuela. I hope you can visit my country in the near future.