Music Feeds Disadvantaged Youth

In case you didn’t catch the April 13th 60 Minutes segment , you will want to know about an amazing social change effort in Venezuela that is the brainchild of Dr. José Antonio Abreu. The effort is called “El Sistema,” and the most visible and impressive result of this effort is the Simon Bolivar National Youth Orchestra. According to the 60 Minutes documentary, Abreu, a 68-year-old retired economist, trained musician, and social reformer founded "the system" in 1975 and has built it with religious zeal, based on his unorthodox belief that what poor Venezuelan kids needed was classical music.

"Essentially this is a social system that fights poverty," Abreu explained to 60 Minutes. "A child's physical poverty is overcome by the spiritual richness that music provides."

For his efforts, in February Abreu was awarded the Glenn Gould Prize. The announcement for the prize stated:
“Explicitly oriented toward lower-income children, El Sistema or "The System" has been described as "a social movement of massive dimensions, that works using music as the instrument that makes the social integration of different Venezuelan population groups possible," and it has been credited with improving the lives of scores of young people who might otherwise have been drawn into lives of crime and drug abuse. The programme has, for instance, taken on and rehabilitated abandoned children. The orchestras have had a substantial social impact in the communities in which they are active. Studies have also shown that the young people involved in the orchestras also perform better in other areas of academic and social life.
El Sistema now involves 270,000 Venezuelans, grouped in 220 youth orchestras, 60 children’s orchestras, and a network of choirs, with musical training starting from age 2. The orchestras are based on 75 "cells" around every province of the country; there are also workshops in which children learn to build and repair instruments, special music-therapy programs for children with disabilities or learning difficulties, and specialist centres or institutes for phonology, audiovisuals, and higher musical education.”

Further evidence of the success of the program is the fact that Gustaval Dudemel , the conductor highlighted in the 60 Minutes segment, was recently hired by the L.A. Philharmonic Orchestra as lead conductor, and has started "Youth Orchestra L.A.," a youth music program that is directly modeled on the Venezuelan prototype. Perhaps the music that now feeds the souls of almost 300,000 Venezuelan youth will spread to the kids who still go to bed hungry for too many things here in the U.S as well.

Caroline Heine

Posted at 1:00 AM, Apr 16, 2008 in Arts and Culture | Education | Social Entreprenuers | Youth | Permalink | Comment