BackStage

Beethoven in the Barrios

Beethoven in the Barrios

Apr 3, 2007

The other day, Mike Williams in the Atlanta Constitution wrote an article called Beethoven in the Barrios about the amazing national music education program in Venezuela. For over 30 years, the program, simply called "The System," begun by conductor Jose Antonio Abreu, is showing the rest of us that this part of the third world is doing great things when it comes to educating its youth in classical music.

Even more importantly, the program is changing lives, creating hope for at risk kids, helping to mold better citizens, and opening countless doors to professional careers for aspiring musicians.

Some 85 percent of the kids involved come from poor or working class families. “The first goal is not to create professional musicians,” explains Xavier Moreno, secretary of “The System.” “The goal is to rescue the children."

Over 500,000 participants later, the remarkable success of “El Sistema” has been followed by the active particpation of a stream of international artists and conductors like Claudio Abbado and Simon Rattle, both of whom are mentoring the organization and its performing ensembles. In fact, the CSO is being lead this week by the program’s most famous graduate, the exciting young conductor Gustavo Dudamel, who leads the orchestra in a varied program of works by Castellanos, Bruch and Mahler.Click here for more information.

Imitation is the sincerest form of flatery, and more than 20 other countries have started their own programs to duplicate Venezuela's. A source of national pride, the program employs 15,000 music teachers and has become intensely competitive. “Centers hold auditions for hundreds, sometimes thousands of kids, who are evaluated for their musical abilities. Those judged most promising are accepted, and all the centers have waiting lists, some with several hundred names,” says Williams.

Venezuela is now full of orchestras and symphonic music, thanks to “El Sistema.” The country only had two professional orchestras when Abreu opened his first training center in the 1970s and now boasts nearly 200 orchestras, with at least one professional group in each of the country’s 22 states. With a total population of just over 27,000,000 people, Venzuela has quite an impressive track record, one to which we should look as a shining beacon for the future of the art form.

Addendum: Re-reading this in the editing process, I couldn’t help but think of Jim Hirsch’s recent blog about the participation of under-represented populations in our nation’s symphony orchestras. As the debate ranges on about why African American and Latino populations in the US aren’t better represented in our orchestras, and after having read about Venezuela’s flourishing “sistema,” I wonder, can you make any assumptions or correlations?

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