El Sistema was founded in Venezuela in 1975 by economist and musician José Antonio Abreu and is now known as Fundación Musical Simón Bolívar. The organization has 31 symphony orchestras, and more than 300,000 children attend its music school “núcleos ” around the country. Seventy to 90 percent of the students come from poor socio-economic backgrounds. The system was designed to improve the life trajectory of young people living in poverty and as a paradigm for social change.
For his service, Abreu received the National Music Prize in 1979. He was appointed as Special Ambassador for the development of a Global Network of Youth and Children orchestras and choirs by UNESCO in 1995 and was awarded the TED prize in 2009.
The movement’s intensive approach engages youth in group lessons, rehearsals, and performance, while emphasizing peer learning and community engagement. The goals of the El Sistema movement center on developing critical life skills and laying the groundwork for success.
Since its founding, the El Sistema model has been adopted worldwide as more music and education leaders have been inspired to adapt the program to their communities. El Sistema alumni, such as Los Angeles Philharmonic Music Director Gustavo Dudamel, have supported the model and encouraged its use in the United States and around the world.
El Sistema has spurred conversations about how to ignite the potential in under-resourced youth using intensive, long-term music education. The movement has expanded rapidly in the United States, including the formation of numerous El Sistema-inspired programs and the establishment of an Abreu Fellows program at the New England Conservatory of Music.
El Sistema Colorado is a proud and active member of the El Sistema USA organization. El Sistema USA’s diverse membership across the United States represents programs that serve some of the most under-resourced communities and youths throughout the country. It aims to provide connections to knowledge and innovation, advocacy, and leadership development for program directors, teaching artists, students, and volunteers. Members, like El Sistema Colorado, collaborate to share resources, values, aspirations, and advocacy efforts. El Sistema USA serves three major purposes: strengthening existing núcleos through capacity development and research, encouraging the formation of new núcleos through providing resources, connections and training, and building awareness of El Sistema at large throughout the United States.
The members of El Sistema USA envision a world where every youth has access to music through intensive ensemble training and performance to promote positive student development and thriving communities.