I don’t honestly remember how I first found TED.com. I guess it was a link sent by a friend or one of those days I was surfing the web, traveling from link to link, reading whatever caught my interest. In any event, I was so fascinated by the expansive offerings on TED that I subscribed to their newsletter.
This week’s e-newsletter shared one of the three winning TED wishes ($100K prize) this year – that of Dr. Jose Abreu of Venezuela, a 70-year-old retired economist, trained musician, and social reformer who founded “the system” (El Sistema) in 1975 and has built it with religious zeal, based on his belief that what poor Venezuelan kids needed was classical music.
Abreu’s wish? To take El Sistema to other nations, including the United States.
El Sistema is all about children, many from neighborhoods which are so poor, desperate and crime-ridden, that hope is often extinguished in children at an early age, living in areas where residents don’t walk alone day or night. And it’s focus is about saving them – hundreds of thousands of children – through music.
According to Dr. Abreu, music is a social system that fights poverty and overcomes it by the spiritual richness that music provides, becoming a vehicle of social change.
Each day, children from some of the poorest of the poor slums in Venezuela line up for free lessons at their local branch of El Sistema. Beginning as early as two years of age, they start learning the basics, like rhythm, and the language of music. (Sounds like Kindermusik!)
By the time they’re four, they’re being taught how to play an instrument. By the time they’re six or seven-year-old veterans, they’re playing in orchestras.
Through hard work and the assistance of fifteen thousand trained musicians as well as gifted kids who teach other kids, the system uses classical music to instill in the kids self-esteem and confidence.
In the thirty-four years since El Sistema was first founded, over eight hundred thousand children have passed through the organization. While the majority of them do not continue on to be professional musicians, all of them are changed.
Dr. Abreu is quoted as saying,
“Music produces an irreversible transformation in a child. This doesn’t mean he’ll end up as a professional musician. He may become a doctor, or study law, or teach literature. What music gives him remains indelibly part of who he is forever.”
When asked if he thinks the system could work in the United States, one Sistema branch manager said:
“Yeah. But I mean, kids are kids. It doesn’t matter where they come from. And if you can help a poor kid in here, you can help a poor kid everywhere. It doesn’t matter the culture, it doesn’t matter the race. I mean, it’s music. Everybody love music.”
Make sure your computer is hooked up to a good set of speakers, turn up the sound, sit back, and prepare to be completely blown away by the power and beauty of the Teresa Carreño Youth Orchestra (Sinfónica Juvenil Teresa Carreño), the national high-school-age youth orchestra of El Sistema, directed by Gustavo Dudamel, newly named musical director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra and product of El Sistema himself. The two selections are Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 10, 2nd movement, and Mexican composer Arturo Márquez’ Danzón No. 2.
To learn more about Dr. Abreu, El Sistema, and making Dr. Abreu’s wish come true, please visit TED.com here.
To view the El Sistema segment by Bob Simon on 60 Minutes, please follow this link.