SARRIA, Venezuela– In the midst of the conflict in Venezuela, young children at an El Sistema program continue to beat their drums and strum their guitars.
What is El Sistema?
El Sistema was founded in Venezuela in 1975 as a free educational music program for children and teens. Many students attend the El Sistema center up to six days per week for three hours to four hours each day.
Students Practice at Local Elementary School
In Sarría, Venezuela, no student is turned away from the El Sistema program. All instruments and instruction are free and many of the instructors are graduates of the El Sistema program. This center embodies El Sistema’s values and approach to music education.
El Sistema attempts to remove children from poverty’s wrath, including drugs, crime, gangs and desperation. It does this through teaching classical music. Children cannot be completely hidden from the violence in Venezuela, but El Sistema provides an educational outlet for children to develop positive habits.
Children Benefit from El Sistema Programs
Through music, children are introduced to a community, they learn commitment and they develop self-worth. El Sistema provides students with a safe environment to learn music. It instills values of community, unity and hard work in these children.
Politics Invade the Music
El Sistema is funded largely by the state and has become a Venezuelan symbol and brand. Hugo Chavez helped fund the organization and his successor, Nicholas Maduro, has continued the tradition of funding El Sistema. Venezuelans are eager to see El Sistema stand up to the corrupt government.
Time to Stand Up
Gustavo Dudamel, one of El Sistema’s alum who now directs the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra, has been criticized for not speaking out against the current Venezuelan government. Dudamel has also come under heat for carrying on a concert on Venezuela’s National Youth Day, when thousands were being massacred.
“Our music represents the universal language of peace, therefore we lament yesterday’s events,” Dudamel said.
As a symbol of the Venezuelan revolution, El Sistema has the opportunity to stand up for the Venezuelan people. The government is keeping El Sistema on a short leash; by funding the organization, the government is limiting El Sistema’s independence. El Sistema has become so successful that international organizations are following suit by implementing similar programs. However, Chavez became resentful of El Sistema’s independence and jealous of its success, so he wanted to make the organization close to the government to keep an eye on it.