I’ve been learning about "el sistema," the Venezuelan music-training program that has been offered to over 300,000 impoverished Venezuelan children.The brainchild of Jose Antonio Abreu, a Ph.D. in petroleum engineering who received musical training while growing up, el sistema, or "the system" as it is known, has been such a force for good, it’s difficult to understand why something similar hasn’t caught on here the United States.
The program reaches out to desperately poor communities and provides children with instruments and training by professionals. Lots of training. Every day after school for several hours, children as young as 2 are given lessons in rhythm, note reading and music theory. They are also given orchestra instruments and trained to play them. Right away, they are assigned to play in ensembles. The curriculum is limited to classical music.
The results have been astounding. Children who would have had dead-end lives or perhaps turned to crime are instead being turned into cultural connoisseurs. The most talented may become members of the Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra, an elite ensemble of el sistema that tours the world.The conductor of that orchestra, Gustavo Dudamel, himself a product of el sistema, will become the music director (conductor) of the Los Angeles Philharmonic in 2009.
As every musician knows, playing music is usually a collaborative effort and as such, one learns to get along with others. Dr.Abreu views el sistema as a human rights effort. He believes it is the right of every child to know and enjoy music. I couldn’t agree more. As an undergraduate music major and former professional musician, the pleasure I gain from listening to and playing music is unsurpassed by anything else in my life. I am also reminded daily of how valuable the training has been to me in my current, non-musical career.
Could we do something like that here? Well, right now, the U.S. is cutting music and the other arts. But it’s nice to dream.
Ruth Sherman • Ruth Sherman Associates LLC • High-Stakes Communications • Greenwich, CT