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First Look / Yana Stainova + Sonorous Worlds

November 20, 2021 @ 5:00 pm - 6:30 pm PST

Saturday, Nov 20th at 5pm, join Massy Arts, Massy Books, and Yana Stainova – researcher + assistant professor of Anthropology at McMaster University (Hamilton, ON) – for the launch of her first book: Sonorous Worlds – Musical Enchantment in Venezuela (2021, University of Michigan Press).

At the event, Stainova will address her research about El Sistema, a Venezuelan initiative that brings free classical music education and instruments to a million young people living in working class neighborhoods (barrios).

The event will be hosted at the Massy Arts Gallery, at 23 East Pender Street (Chinatown, Vancouver), and registration is mandatory.

Click HERE to know more about the event, and register to attend.

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Following, Massy Books invited Yana Stainova to write an exclusive introduction to our readers – presenting an excerpt from the book, kindly presented by the University of Michigan Press.

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Yana Stainova’s Sonorous Worlds: enchantment, wonder, and fascination against everyday violence


The sound of a flute beckons me to follow. I do. It takes me away from the din of children playing during the habitual recess that comes after music classes. I turn a corner of the building and continue down a long corridor. There, I meet a little girl of about eight. She is kneeling in front of a bench, her toes pressed into the ground, and holding a flute high in her hands. Her eyes are fixed on a piece of white paper lined with staffs. The sheet music is propped on a bench—her makeshift music stand. Her thin fingers rise and fall like little hammers onto the silver keys of the flute. Her chin is cast slightly down as she directs a flow of air across the mouthpiece. I scramble to find my sound recorder. The girl is playing a passage from Tchaikovsky’s Marche slave and keeps stumbling on a high note that, as I know from experience, requires a tightening of the diaphragm and a prayer to the gods to come out right. Every time she gets the note wrong, she starts again. Finally, she gets it right. I sigh silently with relief. She puts her flute down. Only then does she feel my gaze and turn her head to look at me.

Sonorous Worlds’s first paragraph


I was born in Sofia, Bulgaria, on the eve of the revolutions that brought about the fall of communism in Eastern Europe. One of the rhythms of stability that accompanied me in those years of economic and political uncertainty was my daily practice of the piano and later – the flute.

Years later, I did research in Chile on poetry written during the Pinochet dictatorship, discovering poetry was a form of collective sustenance for those who wrote and read it.

When I first heard about El Sistema, a Venezuelan initiative that brings free classical music education and instruments to a million young people living in working class neighborhoods (barrios), I was in my first year of a doctoral degree in cultural anthropology.

I felt an uncharacteristic certainty that I wanted to do my dissertation research in Venezuela. My classical music background and my academic interest in artistic practices and social transformation in Latin America took me to this country I had never visited before.

While I arrived in Venezuela with the intention of studying the social impact of music on the poverty and everyday violence in the country, I eventually focused on documenting the lives and destinies of a dozen musicians and they families who became my closest interlocutors and lifelong friends.

As an anthropologist, I am trained to listen to and write about people’s stories. These stories became the foundation of my first book Sonorous Worlds: Musical Enchantment in Venezuela.

The book builds on the concept of enchantment, or what it means to experience wonder and fascination for an activity you love. Enchantment allows me to think about how the Venezuelan state and music institution might strategically enchant their audiences for their own political ends.

At the same time, enchantment also describes how musicians summon music and stories to bring new worlds and dreams into being. While this might be an experience we all have when engaging with music, it acquires existential dimensions in contexts, such as contemporary Venezuela, torn by everyday violence and humanitarian crisis.

The twenty short chapters of the book tell life stories unfolding over the course of a decade and contain the successes, failures, dreams, disappointments, enchantments, and disenchantments of these young musicians.

A melody that runs through all of them is how collective practices of music may open up worlds of experience and the imagination that point toward emergent futures.

Text by Yana Stainova

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Click below to read from the Introduction of Sonorous Worlds, by Yana Stainova.

Sonorous Worlds – Introduction

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November 20, 2021
5:00 pm - 6:30 pm PST