learning, order peer teaching and a commitment to keeping the joy and fun of musical learning and music making ever-present. Sometimes referred to as “passion first/refinement second, abortion ” the El Sistema methodology is in marked contrast to much of music education training outside of Latin America. The backbone of El Sistema student training is preparation for participation in orchestral ensembles, medicine which are at the soul of the núcleo community and culture. Of equal importance is choral singing and various other ensembles, which adapt well to a diversity of musical genres and origins..
Kids of preschool age begin with work on body expressiveness and rhythm. Encouraging the children to keep their bodies active while playing (without losing technique) is a key feature of the program in later years. At age 5, children pick up their first instruments, starting with the recorder and percussion. They also join a choir in order to build community through ensemble work. By age 7, all students can pick their first string or wind instrument. Kids can change instruments but are not encouraged to do so frivolously.
Early instruction includes singing and playing with the student’s instrument, often focusing on a single note within a group song; this helps to develop a sense of quality sound. Learning how to use full standard notation often takes many years and is incorporated into their learning organically.
There are three levels of practice every week: full ensemble work, section work and private lessons. Students often encounter the same teacher in both their group and personal lessons. This allows student to progress quickly, as bad habits are quickly corrected and good habits are regularly enforced.
Durante toda su carrera, los instructores manejan las corrientes educativas del saber ser, saber conocer, saber hacer, saber convivir, saber emprender, y fungen como entes sensibilizadores, manejando herramientas de desarrollo personal y actitudinal. Están en capacidad de atender niños, niñas y jóvenes de forma individual y grupal, con un alto compromiso sociocultural, ético, reflexivo, lógico, orientador, cooperativo, racional, investigador e innovador.
Learning through performing
Students play in front of audiences as much as possible. This reduces the pressure of formal performance, and allows performing to become a natural part of their musical life. Students frequently watch their fellow students perform, allowing them to both see and be inspired by the accomplishments of their peers.
From a young age, the students are exposed to the variety of orchestras within the system, from the lowest level to the internationally successful Simón Bolívar Youth Orchestra.
El Sistema’s primary focus is to create a daily haven of safety, joy and fun that builds every child’s self-esteem and sense of value. Discipline is relaxed but enforced. Attendance is not an issue; the children want to be at their local núcleo for themselves, their teachers and their fellow students. Hard work and true achievement are crucial to the success of El Sistema. However, a feeling of fun is never forgotten.
The majority of El Sistema teachers and núcleo
leaders are former students of the program. They understand both the social and musical mission of the program — they nurture both the individual person and the musician at the same time. Teachers are able to provide individual attention to each student. If they notice a child has missed a second day at the núcleo
without prior notice, they often go to the home to enquire about the absence.
El Sistema has a national curriculum, including an established musical sequence. However, local leaders can customize their program. The entire musical curriculum starts with simple arrangements of big pieces with big sound. These masterworks are often reintroduced as the children progress through the system. As Gustavo Dudamel says, “We have lived our whole lives inside these pieces. When we play Beethoven’s Fifth, it is the most important thing happening in the world.”
El Sistema introduces its students to both internationally known classical composers and Latin American composers and Venezuelan folk musicians.
Work with parents
El Sistema takes considerable time working with the parents of students. For a child of age 2 or 3, teachers make home visits to ensure that the family understands the level of commitment required of them. As the students begin to learn their instruments, teachers instruct parents on how best to support their child’s practice schedule at home, giving feedback and encouragement.
If a student gets into a youth or city orchestra, they will receive a stipend; this not only honors his/her accomplishments but places real value on the music making for the family, so they don’t need to pull the child out of El Sistema to work.
The program of social action through music created by maestro José Antonio Abreu is implemented all over Venezuela through a network of 300 orchestral and choral centers known as núcleos, pharmacy where discipline and peaceful coexistence are learnt.
Orchestras and choirs —as explained by maestro Abreu in 2009, viagra on the occasion of the homage to El Sistema by the OAS— “are much more than arts-oriented structures. They serve as an example and a school of social life.”
The núcleos are run by the Direction of Training and Development of the Simón Bolívar Music Foundation.
One of the El Sistema’s education programs that provide more evidence of the power of music as a tool for social inclusion and reintegration is the Penitentiary Academic Program (PAP). It was established in 2007 for the purpose of reducing violence in jails and preparing inmates for their reintegration into society through the learning, practice, and enjoyment of music.
The PAP is funded by the Inter-American Development Bank, and carried out by the Simón Bolívar Music Foundation in concert with the Ministry of People’s Power for Interior and Justice.
The PAP is currently being implemented in eight penitentiary centers, where 1,565 inmates receive music education through the network of Penitentiary Symphony Orchestras (PSO). they are taught to play both academic and folk music.
To date, over 7,000 inmates have participated in the PAP. Once they serve their sentences, they can continue their music studies and work for the PAP through the extension program.
Kleiberth Lenin Mora Aragón, horn player of the Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela (SBSOV) coordinates the program. This musician and lawyer, with studies in Humanitarian International Law, and a master’s degree in criminology, devoted himself to identifying the needs of the penitentiary population of Venezuela. He learnt that the key was to find a way to re-educate the inmates and help them to reintegrate into society.
Benefits of the program
The PAP promotes the development of discipline, self-esteem, communication skills, sense of group belonging, responsibility, and skills that favor team work. Through the orchestra, they learn to respect others and control their emotions. Furthermore, through this program they find again joy in life. On the other hand, participating in the program may help them to reduce their prison time.
Steps taken to select the prisons where the PAP has been established
The first step was to carry out a sociological research, which was followed by an analysis of the security mechanisms operating in every prison facility. The third and last step was to verify whether there were spaces that could be used as teaching classrooms and offices.
Personnel required to carrying out the PAP
Within every prison where the PAP has been established, there is a staff comprised of a coordinator, a secretary, a conductor and music professors (whose number would vary from prison to prison) who were educated at El Sistema and are residents of the area. Additionally, there is a group of behavior change specialists who develop a weekly monitoring practice.
PSO admission process and entry requirements
To form the ensembles, the inmates are interviewed so as to know their temperament, nature, and morphology. Based on this information, they are assigned a musical instrument. The only requirement is not to have records of assault against penitentiary staff.
Those who are part of the program must study an average of four to six hours daily. Applications are accepted year-round.
I arrived to this prison on the last day of June 2006, a week before my birthday. It coincided with the launch of the Penitentiary Academic Program at the INOF center. I was 28 years old and salsa and reggaeton were the kind of music I liked. As soon as I saw the El Sistema musicians at the prison auditorium, I told my prison mates: ‘let’s annoy them.’ I came with the idea of throwing at them small pieces of paper that I rolled in my hands. Laughter was all you could hear.
The second time I heard about this program I laughed at it again. We were given some leaflets that explained the code of appearance and behavior established by the program. What an absurd! My prison mates and I did could not stop laughing.
The third time was decisive. I challenged one of the violin professors to play a salsa song with his instrument, because that was my favorite kind of music. Well, he did it and I … could not believe it. I immediately joined the program. As soon as I was given the violin, all my prison mates began teasing me.
I still remember my surprise when I saw a bunch of musical notes on the staff… All this has been wonderful: I became disciplined, and has motivated me to better myself. I stopped using vulgar words and, little by little, I changed my way of thinking. We were so busy practicing that we stopped being violent. I remember there was a woman I hated to death, and we became friends after playing together. Music has had a magical effect on me and it has meant a lot to me.
Heidy Seijas, violinist. Founder of the INOF Penitentiary Orchestra
I feel very proud to be an example to the inmates serving at the penitentiary centers of the Andean region, where I currently work as an instructor.
Henry Dávila, former member of the Penitentiary Orchestra of the Andean Region. He joined the staff of the Simón Bolívar Music Foundation once he was released from prison
I have been a member of this orchestra since its formation. I dreamt of that day when I would perform at the Teresa Carreño Theater (…) The flute has helped me to leave the drugs. I’m a new person.
Víctor Villasmil, flute player at the Penitentiary Orchestra of the Andean Region
Before this, my music was reggaeton (…) Now I play the double bass and my proudest moment was when my four children, ages 14, 13, 10 and 9, watched me performing at the Teresa Carreño Theater. When they applauded me, I finally felt useful in this life.
Irma González, double bass player at the INOF Penitentiary Orchestra
Note: All the testimonials are from Venezuela en el cielo de los escenarios by Fundación Bancaribe, and they have been reproduced here by permission of Lenín Mora, Director of the Penitentiary Academic Program.
The conservatory of the 21st century
One of maestro Abreu’s dreams is to change the conception of conservatories and traditional music schools; not only from a theoretical and organizational point of view, but also in terms of their mission and purpose. Hence, it has been of fundamental importance for El Sistema to plan and build appropriate facilities for bringing youth and children into contact with all art forms, and helping them to come into contact with national and international artists.
With that idea in mind was built the National Center for Social Action through Music (NCSAM), a modern and unique music and cultural center located in Caracas.
According to José Antonio Abreu, a key purpose at the NCSAM is to encourage children and youth to learn how to interact with each other through the arts. “A place characterized by the confluence of all the arts, using music as a connecting thread,” explained maestro Abreu.
Even though the main purpose of the NCSAM is to promote music and musicians internationally, it also aims at becoming a center for the cultural integration of Latin America.
The use of music to address social need is a top priority at the NCSAM, as well as the training of music educators for at-risk children.
Leonardo Méndez, trumpet played educated at El Sistema, is its current academic director and responsible, along with Maibel Troia, of planning the schedule of activities in which over 700 people participate every day (without taking into account those who attend the center on weekends).
A joint effort
The National Center for Social Action through Music was created by the System of Youth and Children’s Orchestras and Choirs of Venezuela and financed by the National Housing Institute of Venezuela and the Inter-American Development Bank for the purpose of promoting music, orchestras and virtuosi internationally; and developing music academic programs and training courses for orchestral conductors, performers and music experts.
Conceived as a university for specialized music education, the NCSAM has hosted the greatest number of academic and artistic exchanges in the Americas.
The NCSAM was also funded by the Ministry of People’s Power for Participation and Social Development; the Ministry of People’s Power for Finances; the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP); Centro de Arte la Estancia; Bancaribe; Banesco; diplomatic delegations from Austria, Germany and South Korea; Fundación Polar, and the Society of Friends of the Simón Bolívar Music Foundation, among others.
Designer and builders of the NCSAM
The NCSAM was designed by the Venezuelan architect Tomás Lugo and built by engineer Otokar Kondrat along with engineer Aurelio Manzano and resident architect Marco Pitrelli.
Tomás Lugo graduated in architecture from the Universidad Central de Venezuela (UCV). He entered the competition to design the NCSAM with Jesús Sandoval and Dietrich Kunckel, and won it. Lugo has a wide experience designing art spaces. The Corp Banca Concert Hall, the auditorium of PDVSA Zulia, the theater of the Cículo Militar de Caracas, the auditorium of the Banco Central de Venezuela in Maracaibo, and the auditorium of PDVSA–CIED were designed by this talented Venezuelan architect. He also designed, along with D. Kunckel, the Teresa Carreño Cultural Complex.
Otokar Kondrat graduated from the UCV in 1959 and has designed and built aqueducts, roads, multi-family residential buildings, office buildings, shopping malls, passenger terminals and auditoriums. Kondrat served as Dean of the Faculty of Engineering at the UCV from 1975 to 1978.
Indoor spaces and works of art
A work by kinetic Venezuelan artist Jesús Soto titled El gran virtual amarillo greets the visitors at the entrance of this 14,750 square-meter building made of reinforced concrete. The floor art on the ground floor titled Inducción cromática a doble frecuencia was designed by Carlos Cruz-Diez, a renowned exponent of Venezuelan kinetic art who also designed the tapestry covering the seats of the NCSAM’s Simón Bolívar Hall.
The National Center for Social Action through Music is an eleven-story building with music instruction areas, instrumental and choral rehearsal rooms, libraries, concert and theater halls, chamber music halls, an outdoor acoustic shell, recording rooms, music instruments workshops, changing rooms, cafés, and administrative offices.
Simón Bolívar Hall
With a seating capacity of 1,100, the Simón Bolívar Hall is where the top orchestras of El Sistema give their concerts. The hall has a modern lighting system and the stage consists of three electronically-controlled modular platforms that can be configured for an orchestra, for dance and for opera performances.
The Simón Bolívar Hall houses a pipe symphony organ which was especially designed and built by Orgelbau Klais for the Youth and Children’s Orchestras of Venezuela. It has 36 feet high and 42 feet wide and was donated by Fundación Polar.
The organ has three keyboards or manuals and a pedalboard, and 74 pipes made of alloys of tin, copper and zinc. It is the only one in Latin American specially designed for a concert hall.
Salas de conciertos y de ensayos
Concert halls and rehearsals rooms
There is a wide range of different rehearsal rooms: for a single musician and a professor (single rehearsal rooms); for two or three musicians and a professor (double rehearsal rooms); piano rehearsal rooms; section rehearsal rooms for strings, woodwinds, brass, and percussions; and many general rehearsal rooms, so each instrumental section has a space designed for its specific requirements.
The doors of the rooms are made of heavy gauge steel with a reinforced internal structure and acoustic fibers of varied densities. Their rubber frames and double glass structure block sound transmission in both directions. Wall surfaces, floors and ceilings are soundproofed.
Fedora Alemán Hall
The chamber music hall of the Center for Social through Music was named after Fedora Alemán, a Venezuelan singer who has left a fundamental opera legacy. Located on the first floor of the CSAM, the Fedora Alemán hall has opened its doors for soloists, and orchestral and chamber musicians. The hall has a seating capacity of 400.
Audiovisual National Center
The NCSAM is also home to the El Sistema’s National Audiovisual Center, which documents the daily activities held at the CSAM such as concerts, educational concerts, academic events, etc; as well as the concert tours by El Sistema’s ensembles and many other activities carried out by El Sistema in and out of Venezuela. The NAC has currently a catalogue of over 10,000 titles.
Address: Centro de Acción Social por la Música, Boulevard Amador Bendayán de Quebrada Honda, Los Caobos.
Telephone: (58) 212-5970511
Founded in 1975 for the purpose of advancing the academic education of El Sistema’s members, the Simón Bolívar Conservatory of Music (SBCM) operates under a concept different to that of the Venezuelan traditional conservatories: the collective practice of music is an essential part of its teaching program. Leer más
Since its foundation in 1975, El Sistema has helped to promote and disseminate Venezuelan folk music by adding it to its orchestras’ repertoire and, recently, by implementing a folk music education program entitled Alma Llanera.
With the motto “we are Venezuela, pills too” El Sistema’s Special Education Program (SEP) integrates children and young people with disabilities into society through music. The SEP was created by Jhonny Gómez —a musician with a degree in special education— and launched in 1995 in the north-central city of Barquisimeto, apoplectic where, allergist subsequently, the program established the Center for Braille Music Research and Transcription. Leer más
The El Sistema’s New Member Program (SNMP) was launched in December 2012 with the idea of introducing babies —from birth to 2 years old— to classical music and providing them with the opportunity of joining the National System of Youth and Children’s Orchestras and Choirs of Venezuela.
It was established in 2009 by the Simón Bolívar Music Foundation with the aim of preparing professionals with the skills necessary to make, denture repair and maintain the wind instruments used by its ensembles. Leer más