I recently watched a TED talk by Jose Antonio Abreu. His talk was titled The El Sistema Music Revolution. I was initially drawn in by the title of the piece. I, like many others, benefited greatly from music education during my time in public schools and at my liberal arts college. While I did not major in music, it had a huge impact on my life. Several of my friends are in their student teaching seminar for K-12 music education so I have heard a lot about music education, especially in my home state of PA.
Abreu, a music educator from Venezuela, tells his story about how he founded a youth orchestra and choir for children in his home country. His goal was to give the gift of music to all children, not just the elite classes. He talks about the benefits of music education for these children; in growing their confidence and skill and also giving them a place to learn safely. Abreu states that the orchestra and choir is more than just an artistic ensemble, it is a school and a social gathering. Students are able to work together to create an excellent product, one which gains them recognition and pride. By teaching music, he is teaching structure and co-dependence. He notes the success of the orchestra, which has produced several world-famous musicians and conductors. The success of the orchestra’s alumni provide extra motivation and inspiration for the current members. The orchestra, he says, is a program of social rescue for the children of the lower and middle classes, and is a form of cultural development for the state.
He speaks about how music can uplift society and trains students to be leaders in the communities Music helps these students to feel like they are somebody; he states that the most devastating part of poverty is not the lack of bread but the lack of self-confidence. Music helps these children believe in themselves and believe that they can do anything. Abreu states that in order to stop the spiritual crisis historian Arthur Toynbee wrote about, the arts must be supported. His hope is for a continued open discussion on new topics, like the TED talks provide, but also to challenge the world to provide the arts and music as a way to help the lower classes and develop communities and build stronger futures.
Gustavo Dudamel, alum of El Sistema, conducting the orchestra that gave him his start. He is now currently the conductor and music director of the Los Angelos Philharmonic,