I highly recommend watching this TED interview with Sistema Founder Jose Abreu, and then watch this video of Sistema Youth Orchestra performing in Caracas under sistema graduate Gustavo Dudamel (now conductor of the LA Philharmonic, and two other leading orchestras on two other continents)
I happy-cry every time I see this.
The following text is taken from the Sistema Toronto webpage, which you can get to here.
Throughout Venezuela, a quarter of a million children annually are studying classical music; a radical social project where children, living in unthinkable circumstances, are succeeding with the help of skills learned through music.
El Sistema, born over 30 years ago and with 11 original participants, is funded by private sponsors and government and offers free music classes to any child regardless of their ability to pay. It also provides the instruments. Not only a flagship of national achievement, it is producing transformative social change, artistic excellence, and producing and exporting musicians of extraordinary quality.
It is based on the premise that it is not just the lack of a roof or of bread, or literacy skills that holds kids back, it’s also a spiritual lack – a loneliness, a lack of recognition and of achievement. It is based on the belief that children are born into the world as assets – not liabilities, and that poor people deserve to see beauty.
The Venezuela project has demonstrated children can acquire spiritual wealth through music. They have shown that art is not the property of the elite, but the heritage of the people – and is within the grasp of every citizen. They have shown that great art is for everyone and that it has the power to improve the lives of citizens as well as transform and enhance society.
Venezuela has verified the possibility of transformative social change through music.
For poor, the at-risk, disadvantaged children, music is the way to a dignified social destiny. Poverty means loneliness, sadness, anonymity. An orchestra means joy, motivation, teamwork, and the aspiration to success. It starts with children, it is possible, it is deserved, it is incredibly fun – and it changes the future for children.
The El Sistemaprogram
- Children are given an instrument as soon as they can hold it;
- Tuition, outings, and music are furnished free of charge in return for the child’s agreement to play in one of the sistema’s ensembles;
- Orchestral playing is a part of the program from the beginning;
- Lessons are in groups;
- Children who have mastered a scale or two are delegated to teach younger children; peer support is fundamental;
- Practice is supervised;
- Six days a week, four hours a day, the children play together
The El Sistemaspirit
- Music is taught as play rather than a chore;
- The objective is discipline, respect, and achievement through work;
- The goal is excellence: the point is not to be the best, but to be the best you can;
- Everything is communal, everything is about the team; the culture is one of mutual support.