Hispanic heritage: José Antonio Abreu and the musical heritage of Venezuela

Music is considered an escape for many, but “El Sistema” – the popular name for the National Symphony of Youth and Children’s Orchestras – offers any child in Venezuela the opportunity for a career in music.

Why is it important: El Sistema is a free classical music education program launched in the 1970s to ensure that music was no longer “a monopoly of elites” but a “right for everyone”.

  • The program claims that it is the most effective social project in the history of Venezuela.
  • Its founder, José Antonio Abreu, said that while the program teaches students to love music, becoming a musician is not the ultimate goal of its students. Being part of an orchestra teaches young people the importance of working together for a common goal and self-discipline.
  • “The culture of merit, effort, perseverance and discipline are being created, valid paths that lead to a better Venezuela,” said Abreu, a government economist turned music educator, during acceptance of the Swedish Alternative Nobel Prize in 2001.

Rollback: Abreu created “El Sistema” in 1974 with just 11 children, and he knew it would be difficult to launch such a program in a country that paid no attention to culture, writes the Venezuelan newspaper “El Universal”.

  • In 1975, the youth orchestra made its official debut with 80 musicians in a government building.

To note : The Venezuelan government, led by center-right to left-wing presidents, has supported the program since 1979.

  • Abreu had been criticized for the program’s association with the government of Hugo Chavez, the late Venezuelan president..
  • The musician said he never felt “any political pressure” to take a political stand.

“El Sistema” has been reproduced in at least 60 countries around the world with the aim of bringing about social change through art.

  • The program “uses ensemble music to allow each child to experience being an asset within their community,” according to Eric Booth, author of “Playing for Their Lives: The Global El Sistema Movement for Social Change Through Music”.
  • “El Sistema nurtures a powerful intrinsic motivation in learners, which fuels the ambitious work ethic and drives learners to deep commitment, values ​​and practices that change their lives over time,” Booth said.

By the numbers: At least 800,000 children have passed through “El Sistema” in Venezuela, Abreu told CBS’s 60 Minutes in 2008.

Do not forget : Conductor Gustavo Dudamel, musical director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra, made his musical debut in “El Sistema”.

  • Dudamel said “El Sistema” taught him “art is a universal right and that inspiration and beauty irreversibly transform a child’s soul.”

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