Posted at 10:19 AM on June 24, 2008
by Gillian Martin
Think what you will about Venezuela's current government, the country does have a remarkable music education system (that's survived the last several governments there). It's called El Sistema, and it has given hundreds of thousands of poor children something to do, something to take pride in.
Conductor Gustavo Dudamel, the next music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, is the current poster child for El Sistema. There's a description of it on his website, including this anecdote:
Lennar Acosta, now a clarinettist in the Caracas Youth Orchestra and a tutor at the Simón Bolívar Conservatory, had been arrested nine times for armed robbery and drug offences before the sistema offered him a clarinet.
"At first, I thought they were joking," he recalls. "I thought nobody would trust a kid like me not to steal an instrument like that. But then I realized that they were not lending it to me. They were giving it to me. And it felt much better in my hands than a gun."
As the foster mother of an "at-risk" teen myself, I wish we had something like that here.
A new development is that now Venezuela has introduced El Sistema to adults in prison. Read more about that here.
How good do some of these kids get? Check out this video of El Sistema's flagship ensemble, the Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra, taking a romp through some Bernstein at the BBC Proms last summer. That's Dudamel conducting.