The streets of Venezuala are alive with music! El Sistema was set up in 1975 by musician and economist, José Antonio Abreu, a visionary who saw the influence of music in empowering young people and decided to give young people in the poorest parts of Venezuala an instrument and encourage them to play. The results have been astounding, today the El Sistema project involves nearly 400,000 children. If you haven’t heard of it yet you are certainly behind the times on innovative enterprises throughout the developing world. But the El Sistema movement is not just confined to the developing world. El Sistema inspired projects have reached countries as far removed as Bolivia, India, Australia and Scotland.
The important thing about El Sistema is that although music is the medium, music is not the primary goal. By introducing young children to an instrument and encouraging them to continue that instrument throughout their youth, they learn concentration, commitment, diligence, passion and leadership. Improvements are seen throughout their education and in their personal and social interaction. El Sistema builds confident, competent adults, ready to build a better future for themselves and their communities.
Though the musical brilliance of many involved in the El Sistema project is a bi-product, it is certainly a fortunate one. The Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra directed by Gustavo Dudamel, himself a graduate of El Sistema, debuted at the BBC proms in London’s Royal Albert Hall in 2007. It has gone on to tour worldwide to international acclaim. Other new youth orchestras include The Teresa Carreño Youth Orchestra, The Caracas Symphony Youth Orchestra and a newly constituted National Children’s Orchestra consisting of 358 musicians.
El Sistema is just one of the many ways that music can bring social change to troubled societies.
The Sounds of Palestine (SoP) project is inspired by El Sistema, and with the help of both the MwB music coach and nonviolence trainer SoP has institued their interpretation in two Palestinian refugee camps in which music and social work are combined. Read more about the SoP project here
Though Music Bus Goes Midlle East shares the idea of social change through music, it is very different in execution, partly because of differences in the resources we have access to but also because of the very different needs and challenges we face with Palestinian youth. Music Bus Goes Palestine deals with children suffering the negative effects of a conflict-ridden society as well as systematic poverty. Many of the children we work with have suffered emotional trauma, and as such, the project is primarily designed to give children and young people a nonviolent outlet of self-expression.
Among our varying workshops, we visit children in refugee camps, children fighting cancer and youths learning rap and samba as a means to nonviolent self-expression. A primary outlet of our resources has been the Music and Nonviolent Leadership program, training counsellors, social workers and other leaders for our workshops in community music and in nonviolent leadership.