What is El Sistema?

The idea of El Sistema has been entering conversations about American music education. The title is tossed around and linked with success stories of famous musicians such as Gustavo Dudamel. A simple internet search provides inspirational videos and images of joy and triumph. There exists, however, some confusion over what exactly El Sistema is. The simplest answer: It is an idea. With roots in the impoverished barrios in Venezuela, it is an idea that has spread from South America to the United States and abroad as a way to offer children a way out of the cycle of poverty they have been presented with through the values and skills learned through music. Though the structure of the American El Sistema-inspired programs varies, they all are based on the belief that every child is entitled to the opportunity to learn an instrument despite their financial or social standing.

 

So what is El Sistema?

 

Dr. José Antonio Abreu founded what we now know as El Sistema in Venezuela in 1975, building it from a group of eleven children to a national state-funded program with locations throughout the country. His goal was to provide children with a safe place to be after school and give them the skills and opportunities to find an alternative to the pervasive cycle of poverty. Since the program is free of charge, any child is able to attend El Sistema regardless of economic status. Each site, or nucleo, has orchestral and choral programs as well as folk, jazz, and special needs classes. The world-renowned Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra is one of the top orchestras to come out of this system, as well as the music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Gustavo Dudamel.

 

In 2009, Dr Abreu was awarded the TED Prize. With this comes the opportunity to share a wish with the world. His was for the United States to set up a series of El Sistema inspired programs throughout the country for the benefit of impoverished youth. According to El Sistema USA, today there are over one hundred registered El Sistema-inspired programs throughout the nation. This wish has spread abroad to other countries on all seven continents excluding Antarctica.

 

The programs in the United States, while they carry the values and goals of Dr. Abreu’s original mission, have some significant differences in structure. El Sistema itself is not a curriculum, but Venezuela has a national one that can be adapted at the local level. The United States does not have a set national curriculum for music education, therefore it is decided by each individual program. El Sistema is also not a pedagogy. While it provides a programming structure and mission, the methods used in the United States vary depending on the program. Funding has been an issue as well; since the programs are not nationally sponsored, they need to find outside funding. This can be done through fundraising, school systems (depending on who is sponsoring the program), grants, or other avenues. Currently, only one program in the United States has been funded directly by a municipal government.

 

For more information:

http://www.elsistemausa.org/el-sistema-in-the-u-s.htm

http://www.ted.com/talks/jose_abreu_on_kids_transformed_by_music

 

Copyright © 2015 · All Rights Reserved · Silvija Kristapsons

Announcing the Launch of the Johnson String Project!

Johnson String Project LogoJohnson String Instrument is proud to announce our partnership with the new non-profit organization the Johnson String Project. You can find more information on the Facebook page and in the press release below. Keep following our blog to learn more about El Sistema and the Johnson String Project.

Johnson String Instrument Launches Lending Library

Johnson String Instrument, a leading online resource for stringed instruments, has created the Johnson String Project (JSP), a charitable foundation whose goal is to provide high-quality instruments to children who live in underserved communities and who are participating in El Sistema-inspired programs in Massachusetts. Supported by a grant from the Massachusetts Cultural Council (MCC), the Johnson String Project has created the first musical instrument lending library in the world. Students will be able to exchange and upgrade instruments as they grow and develop as musicians.
“The Johnson String Project recognizes that these programs are critical to the development of young minds,” said Anita Walker, MCC Executive Director. “It is the first organization in the world to build an instrument library to remove a significant barrier to musical education.”
The overall goal of the Johnson String Project is an expansion of Johnson String Instrument’s belief that all students are entitled to a high-quality instrument.
“Encouraging a love of music and enabling it with high-quality, well-maintained musical instruments is what the Johnson String Project is all about,” said Carol Johnson, founder of the Johnson String Project.
The Johnson String Project will officially be kicked off with a gala fundraising event on June 7th at their location in Newton, MA.
“In our conversations with program directors we learned that many of them have a hard time getting enough funding for the instruments as well as their upkeep. This grant and future donations will keep that from being an issue,” said Johnson.
Using musical education as a vehicle for social mobility was pioneered by El Sistema. Founded in Venezuela in 1975, the program uses music to teach values and skills that empower children to break the cycle of poverty. Many of the programs that benefit from this library are inspired by the original Venezuelan system.
Each $200 donation provides a student with an instrument for one year. Johnson String Instrument will be supporting the foundation with direct and indirect contributions.