The orchestra and the choir are much more than artistic studies. They are examples of social life. To sing and play together means to intimately coexist.
– Dr. Jose Antonio Abreu, Founder of El Sistema
Over three decades ago in Venezuela one man dreamed of a better world for children living in poverty: “give children musical instruments and they will never carry a gun: teach them to play classical orchestra music and they will learn how to live a meaningful life. “
That man was Dr. Jose Antonio Abreu. Dr. Abreu gathered 11 children in a parking garage in Caracas, Venezuela to play classical music. The organization and its many nuclei orchestras now teach ensemble music to 300,000 of Venezuela’s poorest children, demonstrating how family-school-community partnerships in the arts can positively change the lives of a nation’s youth and the communities to which they belong.
El Sistema, “The System,” is firmly grounded in philosophical, psychological, and sociological theory and research, all contributing to its success. The philosophical frameworks of Paulo Freire and Lev Vygotsky guide its dual emphasis on comprehensive education of the individual and the collective nature of learning. Psychological theories on self-efficacy, scaffolding, modeling, and initiative development inform its teaching methodologies, connecting how learning music follows a similar trajectory to advancing in other arenas of life. El Sistema’s sociological roots reach far beyond the role of arts and music. The partnership between teachers, musicians, politicians, community leaders, families, and the public is also aimed at creating social change. In Venezuela, 60% of the children in El Sistema programs were at risk of dropping out of school, were already outside of the educational system, or were victims of family violence or social neglect. Through its Social Action Center and numerous supporting institutions, El Sistema has improved the lives of marginalized young people throughout Venezuela (Sanchez, 2007).
El Sistema in the United States
El Sistema was launched in Boston by The New England Conservatory of Music and Mark Churchill. They launched a program called the Abreu Fellows, sending musicians to Venezuela to learn ‘the system’ with the idea of placing these fellows in various cities to begin El Sistema in the United States. This program seems to be catching on in many cities such as Los Angeles, New York City, Durham North Carolina, Chicago, Miami, San Antonio Texas and many others.