The value of teaching children music reaches far beyond a simple appreciation of the arts. Tested models have actually proven that music can dramatically change the life trajectory of impoverished children. That was the discovery of Dr. José Antonio Abreu in Venezuela in 1975 after he founded the El Sistema music program. Today, his curriculum has become the inspiration for thousands of similar programs around the world, including those being offered to Children International kids in Colombia and the Dominican Republic.
How It Works
El Sistema was designed as a social-change/youth-development program that uses ensemble music to enable every child to experience what it's like to be an asset within his or her community. Programs inspired by El Sistema, like those being offered by CI, are designed to develop citizens through the discipline and collaboration of musical study.
The program contributes to the development of leadership skills by encouraging participants to feel ownership in the music-making process, taking responsibility for both their own and the group's improvement. To aid in this effort, instructors urge even the youngest students to take on teaching roles. The result is ever-present peer-to-peer instruction that, over time, becomes a positive habit of helping others.
Partnering for Progress
The Sally and Dick Roberts Coyote Foundation, in association with the film and website, "I Am a Fine Musician," has partnered with Children International to fund the El Sistema-styled programs in the Dominican Republic and Colombia.
In the D.R., the program reaches out to youth within two marginalized communities in Santiago de los Caballeros who are limited by inadequate educational opportunities and extremely low incomes. The program there provides an outlet in which students gain valuable encouragement and support in developing goals beyond their current circumstances.
In Barranquilla, Colombia, children and youth face similar circumstances, along with especially dangerous and violent living conditions. The El Sistema program in that community aims to distract students from these risks by providing a creative outlet, along with a sense of belonging and responsibility. Students who participate in the program – and become proud members of the "Blizzard Orchestra," which performs regularly for celebrities and dignitaries – bond in a positive way and develop high levels of self-esteem that help them avoid dangerous recreational outlets.
Students in the El Sistema program are encouraged to to take on teaching roles to develop positive habits of helping others. The El Sistema program teaches students not only how to play music but also how to be good citizens.