Maestro Jose Antonio-Abreu, recipient of the 2009 TED Prize, gave his acceptance speech in February. He describes with great eloquence the impact of El Sistema, the nationwide youth music training program he founded over 35 years ago in Venezuela, on the hearts and souls of its people, and the society as a whole. He describes the effect of this system as being felt in three circles – the individual, the family, and the community. In other words, by planting the seeds of music-making in the hearts and minds of children, we affect wider circles than just those children. We affect the families, we affect the communities in which those families live, and we eventually affect the world. I am in awe of the beauty of how Maestro Abreu’s dream, which started with just eleven students in 1975, has come to truly be the change he wished to see in the world.
In its essence, the orchestra and the choir are much more than artistic structures. They are examples and schools of social life, because to sing and to play together means to intimately coexist toward perfection and excellence, following a strict discipline of organization and coordination in order to seek the harmonic interdependence of voices and instruments. That’s how they build a spirit of solidarity and fraternity among them, develop their self-esteem and foster the ethical and aesthetical values related to the music in all its senses. This is why music is immensely important in the awakening of sensibility, in the forging of values and in the training of youngsters to teach other kids.
— Jose Antonio-Abreu, in his 2009 TED Prize Wish
Follow this link to see the video of the talk, and here to read the complete transcript of the talk.
Here is the video from a surprise satellite-fed performance by one of El Sistema’s Youth Orchestras, performing live in Venezuela after the Abreu talk. Conducted by Gustavo Dudamel, an alumnus of El Sistema and, beginning in 2009, the Music Director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic. The energy, passion, and discipline of this group of high-school-aged students is truly breathtaking. I’ll borrow from the TED blog’s words, by asking you to please take 20 minutes and
…accept this astonishing gift from a bunch of kids in another country who might have lived lives of futility … but instead discovered the transformative power of music.
Behold and enjoy the results of 35 years and the dedication of an entire country.