El Sistema

I have just watched one of the best Proms concerts I’ve ever seen on BBC 4. Venezuela’s Simón Bolívar Orchestra wowed a packed Albert Hall with a programme of mature playing which belied their years. The conductor, Gustavo Dudamel is 26 and the members of the orchestra are 16+.

All are products of El Sistema (short for Fundación del Estado para el Sistema de Orquesta Juvenil e Infantil de Venezuela). Founded 32 years ago by José Antonio Abreu this national system of music schools offers free tuition and instruments to 250,000 of Venezuela’s deprived children through a network of 125 youth orchestras in 90 music schools around the country.

Could it happen here? A musical training project, beginning in Raploch will extend throughout the next ten years to other areas of Scotland. Susan Carragher who is responsible for communities and culture for Stirling Council, travelled to Venezuela in May to investigate El Sistema. If East Lothian ever feels the need for a Spanish-speaking instrumental instructor to carry out a similar fact-finding mission, let me throw my sombrero into the ring 🙂

One of the nice touches in the concert occurred just before the orchestra’s second encore when the members of the orchestra and the conductor all donned track suit tops in the vibrant colours of the Venezuelan flag (try to picture it before clicking). This was a type of joyous nationalism rarely seen when that word hits the news.

6 thoughts on “El Sistema”

  1. Hello Alan

    Brilliant, wasn;t it? I heard it on radio 3. Many of the youngsters are from shanty towns. We’re perhaps used to kids from poor areas, especially in latin America, getting a break in football, so it was inspiring to hear about the Venezuelan system for helping deprived youngsters through music-making and tuition. Like Daniel Barenboim’s West East Devan orchestra, proof of the ability of music to change lives!

    (PS have added your blog to a Google map of blogs I’m compiling, if you want a look, there’s a link on the geography page of my blog)


  2. Thanks for your comment, Jim. An Argentinean friend of mine, to whom I lose regularly yet gallantly at internet chess, pointed out the following upon reading of the Scottish initiative in Raplcoh:

    “It would be interesting to see how such a system would work in a country like Scotland but what really impresses me is the kind of sensitivity and openness of politicians to appreciate such a good idea when it presents itself. Many Latin American countries would be much more benefited from a project like el Sistema, but I am afraid our politicians do not even think about it and, most likely, never will.”

    I had completely overlooked the relative farsightedness of the Scottish connection (“A prophet is not without honour, save in his own country, and in his own house.”)

    Thanks, also, for including this blog in your directory.

    Best wishes


  3. Hi Alan,
    Hopefully when I have more time, I’ll try and fill you in on an alternative and slightly cynical view of the forthcoming EL Sistema to the Raploch, from the inside…that is a chronically under-funded and overworked Tutor service of Stirling Council, where all the High and Primary schools and parents are desperately crying out for more tuition, and have been for a number of years. Many primary schools get nothing at all, so the much-heralded E.S. with promises of massive funding, tuition from BBC SSO staff etc etc, has not been openly welcomed by some residents and staff!!

    If you bump into Juliette and Laurie Crump (with baby now?) Say Hi!

    And likewise to Lyn Black, a former frequent visitor,,,,,

    Iain Wilkinson (Stirling Council Guitar Tutor) enjoy the blog!

  4. Hi Iain,

    Thanks for your interesting comment. I look forward to hearing more. I’ll be sure to pass on your regards to Juliet, Laurie and Michael and also to Lynn.

    All the best


  5. We are looking to start something vaguely similar to El Sistema here in Birmingham, Alabama. Short of going to Venezuela, is there any information on the organization? I’ve tried to find something more than the superficial articles after the proms.

  6. Hi Jeane,

    Thanks for your comment. Unfortunately many of the press articles are, as you suggest, quite short on detail. I suspect that you need to know about the mechanics of making such a thing work. Perhaps you could try to get in touch with Susan Carragher (Communities and Culture, Stirling Council, Scotland) as she has made an investigative visit. Wouldn’t you fancy a wee visit to Venezuela? Here is a link to Stirling Council’s website – with general contact details. Good luck in your search: http://www.stirling.gov.uk/index/aboutus/contactus.htm

    p.s. I don’t know Susan at all

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