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  • Sarah Grace Kimberly

El Sistema: la educación musical en Venezuela

Even as his career took off and continues to grow to this day, Dudamel has never forgotten from whence he came.

En el mundo de hoy, la educación artística es imprescindible, y por esa razón, el país de

Venezuela inició su programa llamado El Sistema. But don’t worry, this whole article is not

going to be in Spanish!

As I was saying, in today’s world, art education is absolutely fundamental to the healthy

development of a child. Artistic education improves the social standing of students by

strengthening communication skills and giving students a purpose early in their lives, along with a community to support them throughout their early childhood development.

In Venezuela, educators have mastered the art of providing a musical education through

the state’s initiative, El Sistema. Founded in 1975 by José António Abreu, the program began

with the mission of providing a free education in classical music to impoverished children. Their motto, “music for social change,” sings out as the 980,000 members of the program participate in after-school and weekend training.

Aside from the social impact that this program has had on Venezuela, El Sistema also

created the Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra, one of the greatest youth orchestras in the

world, routinely pumping out top notch performances by graduates of the program between the ages of 18-28 years old.

In addition to their top tier youth orchestra, El Sistema has also birthed some of music’s

finest artists. The famed conductor, Gustavo Dudamel, recognizes El Sistema for raising his

musical talents.

Dudamel was born in - no surprise here - Venezuela, in 1981 to his musical parents who

played trombone and taught voice. Although Dudamel grew up playing the violin in his nucleo in El Sistema (despite wanting to play the trombone like his father), he quickly gained interest and displayed an affinity for conducting. He was raised in El Sistema, and his mentor was the one and only, José António Abreu. Dudamel dropped his violin in favor of a conductor’s baton, and at the age of 15, was named Music Director of the Amadeus Chamber Orchestra. Dudamel soon became one of the world’s most sought-after conductors. His infectious energy onstage passes on to the musicians with whom he is working, and he conducts almost every score by memory; he truly breathes life into the music. But even as his career took off (and continues to grow to this day), Dudamel has never forgotten from whence he came.

Having just finished his twelfth season as the Music & Artistic Director of the Los

Angeles Philharmonic, Dudamel now has astonishing accomplishments under his belt. He

followed in the footsteps of El Sistema by partnering with the LA Phil to create Youth Orchestra Los Angeles (YOLA), which, like Tunes for Kidz and El Sistema, works to provide young musicians with instruments and music education.

Additionally, Dudamel has worked tirelessly to make music a more equitable experience, acting in his belief that music has the power to “transform lives, to inspire, and to change the world.” He created the Dudamel Foundation, which also puts effort into expanding access to music education and bridging the gaps between communities through creation.

Dudamel and the many musicians like him that were molded through El Sistema thank

the program for instilling art as a value at such a crucial age in their lives. El Sistema is heralded for the effect that it has had on reducing poverty and increasing the success of its students in school. Unfortunately, this publicly funded program is suffering in the face of economic hardship in Venezuela. Many of the musicians and teachers that made the program possible have left Venezuela, but the new director, Eduardo Mendez, is determined to keep the program alive and running to contribute to the music education of generations to come.

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