The story of the El Sistema movement
Case studies examining the impact of music education
The specifics of our vision
Partners and Donors
In 1975, a man named Dr. Jose Antonio Abreu brought together 11 children in Caracas, Venezuela for music lessons in a parking garage. Abreu, who was an organist, engineer and politician, had a vision for his country: to use music to enact positive social change. He believed that an orchestra represents an ideal society, and the sooner a child is nurtured in that environment, the better for all. In 1976, his new children’s orchestra had performed brilliantly in an international competition in Aberdeen, Scotland, and the Venezuelan government began to fully finance the program.
Children are involved in the program most days of the week after school for about three or four hours per day, plus weekend rehearsals and intensive rehearsals during school vacations. Many children begin as young as 2 or 3 and the vast majority continue well into their teens.
Over the years, the program became known for rescuing young people in extremely impoverished conditions from a life of drugs and crime and giving them hope beyond a life in the slums. 500,000 children attend El Sistema’s music schools around the continent, and nearly 90% of these children are from poor socio-economic backgrounds. Over half a million children to date have gone through El Sistema’s programs in Venezuela and Abreu’s newest goal is to have one million children participating in the program in the next few years. Worldwide, El Sistema has reached over 2 million children in South America, North America, Europe and parts of Asia and Africa.
One of the most famous products of El Sistema is Gustavo Dudamel, the famous conductor and violinist who currently serves as music director for the Los Angeles Philharmonic and the up and coming Simon Bolivar Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela. The Simon Bolivar Orchestra made its debut at Carnegie Hall and the BBC Proms in 2007 and was met with great enthusiasm and critical acclaim. The orchestra is comprised of over 200 musicians between the ages of 18 and 28 who have all gone through El Sistema.
In 1975 when Abreu began El Sistema, Venezuela had only two orchestras and a classical music audience of about 1,000. Now, they have over 60 children’s orchestras, 200 youth orchestras, 30 professional adult orchestras and dozens of choruses. The Simón Bolívar Orchestra has been compared to the Berlin Philharmonic, and they have produced countless all-star musicians. El Sistema has turned around the lives of hundreds of thousands of at risk children and the best reasons for its success are the time that the children are spending making music and the values they take away from performing together. Many of them are with the same teachers nearly every day of the week for three to four hours a day from age 2 to 18. They learn a sense of capability, strong social skills, creativity, resilience and leadership. They have created their positive change through the learning of music.