Musica Bene Comune: bringing music and smiles to the heart of Italy

By Daniela Peña (Edited by Roslyn Raney)

Karen Velazquez is a violinist, musical director and teacher, trained in El Sistema – Venezuela, who currently resides in the city of Rome, Italy where she has developed numerous programs in several schools and cities as part of the flourishing Sistema of Children and Youth Orchestras of Italy. She graduated with a Bachelor of Arts from the Central University of Venezuela. Also, Karen studied at the Simón Bolívar Conservatory of Music and took Violin classes and Orchestral Conducting. She was the musical coordinator of the Specialized Training Program in the String Area (CEAC) designed by Prof. Susan Siman and creator of the Pequeños Mozart Strings Orchestra Program of the Montalbán Academic Center. Karen has participated in various musical projects in Paris, Barcelona, Vienna, Prague, Leipzig and Berlin. Since 2016, she has been the Musical and Didactic Director of the Bene Comune Music Association.

What or who inspired you to work at Música Bene Comune (MBC)?
My inspiration has always been children, it is for them that Musica Bene Comune was born, but the person who inspires us all to continue believing and fighting for MBC is the Director Manuela Litro, who shares with us every day her commitment, dedication and enthusiasm to make a better world. She has listened to my ideas and projects, and has given me her support inside and outside the program. But even more motivating and inspiring are the smiles of all the children and young people who make music with us every day.

How are the work dynamics within the music program?
MBC works with different schools and projects nationwide in Italy. Most of the schools are located in Rome, but one of the most important projects we are currently developing is in the city of Amatrice, which unfortunately suffered considerable damage due to last year’s earthquake. The entire work team mobilized from Rome to Amatrice once a week to make music in the only school that remained standing. We carry smiles and all our love to provide positive emotions and improve the lives of each of the children and young people through music.

In Rome we have several schools where we have orchestral rehearsals once a week, and also join together to do general rehearsals, where more than 250 children play an instrument. When MBC started last year, we had only 45 children on violin and cello. This year MBC has violins, cellos, flutes, clarinets, trumpets and percussion. In addition, it is starting the Bell Orchestra in all schools and a White Hands Choir for children with different abilities. We are full of energy and we want to make music with many more children.

How is the Musica Bene Comune work team?
Our work team is made up of wonderful and valuable women musicians. Manuela Litro is the Director of the Association. Francesca Pellifroni is the Artistic Director; also, she is in charge of administration. I am responsible for the Musical Direction of the Orchestra and the Department of Pedagogy. Mara Giordano is the teacher of Violin and Sinziana Bica teaches Violoncello. Each of us has a role and everything adds up. In short, we are a team of women dedicated to teaching music to children through Musica Bene Comune.

How do you inspire and motivate the team to achieve the objectives of this musical program?
MBC says that I am the most cheerful and the one that finds a solution to everything. Every day I inspire my team to continue believing and fighting for this beautiful work of which we are all a part. Having El Sistema in my heart makes me inspire others as they inspired me in Venezuela. I tell them that we are a family, and we have to leave our hearts in every activity we do. We have the best job in the world and although for us it is not a job but a way of life, we do it with the greatest enthusiasm and, above all, dedication.

In your opinion, what have been the biggest challenges to overcome during the development of this musical program?
Teaching music is a challenge when you are in the country of Verdi, Vivaldi and Paganini just to name a few, and although the Venezuelan Sistema of orchestras has achieved important musical results providing countless benefits to children, the methodology and pedagogy that it employs is quite novel for the European continent. We also have financial challenges because to bring music for free to children and young people we need more financial support and sponsors.

What has been your greatest satisfaction working with Musica Bene Comune?
My greatest satisfaction is that the children enter and leave the music classroom always with a smile, that is our purpose and greater reward. Every day we have more children and that makes us do everything with more determination and love.

What things do you consider essential to make sustainable a musical project of this kind?
First, to have a team committed to the project, where each one is indispensable for the development of any objective.The more harmonious the work team, the better everyone will do at the activities every day. Second, create alliances with sponsors who also feel committed to our work, and thus ensure that we can bring music education to a greater number of children.

How have you taken advantage of social networks to connect with other musical programs in the world?
In social networks we post all the musical activities of our program. This has allowed us to interact with other associations that make music, generating bonds of brotherhood. A few months after MBC started its activities, we received the invitation of Maestro Antonio Malavé (Mexico) and Susan Siman (United States), to carry out the live broadcast of a simultaneous concert in the three countries, celebrating the Day of Internet. The children of the orchestra were very excited about this opportunity. They made music with other children from Mexico and the United States, and also their relatives in other countries could see them playing. These emotions can only be possible thanks to technology. We have also met with people in nearby cities who have written to our website.

What would you say to other teachers and musical leaders in the world?
I would tell them to join us. We continue to advocate for children everywhere in the world. By overcomingwill discoverey will discover thousands of opportunities. All your work, however small it may seem, is very big in view of all those who want a better world through music.


Karen Velasquez

Photos: Musica Bene Comune social media