In 1975 Jose Antonio Abreu started a revolution by fulfilling a dream. His dream was for all Venezuelan children to have the opportunity to make music. To make that happen, he created El Sistema, “the system” that inspires and motivates young musicians.
When he started the orchestra, he received a gift of 50 music stands, enough to allow 100 children to rehearse. The first night only 11 showed up, and he promised them he would turn their orchestra into one of the premier orchestras in the world.
He kept that promise. Now the Simón Bolívar Youth Orchestra tours the world, receiving standing ovations everywhere and spreading intense joy.
He has made music a right, not a privilege. Passion is the price of entry, not wealth, gender or race. A BBC article from November 28, 2005, describes the magic of this orchestra. Jens Erk Gould tells the story of Lennar Acosta. At 17 the young man had done nine stretches in a Caracas correctional facility, for drug use and armed robbery.
While the facility denied Mr Acosta’s request to return to school, the youth orchestra took him on as a student and soon gave him a scholarship.He now earns his living at a music institute, has played a dozen times in the nation’s famed Teresa Carreno music hall, and is studying to perform Mozart’s clarinet concerto.
The orchestra has transformed hundreds of lives and is so popular now that when they announced two concerts in London recently, both sold out immediately – eight months ahead of the performances. Over 350,000 children are in orchestras and choirs across Venezuela, because of El sistema.
The good news is that you don’t have to buy a scalper ticket to hear these talented young musicians. The Guardian will be streaming both concerts live, on June 23 and June 26. Watch the Guardian Web site for details, and hope the servers don’t crash.
You can see the orchestra in action in the first video, and then watch Jose Antonio Abreu’s TED talk in the second video. Abreu and his orchestra will give you a sense of possibility and confirmation of the transformative power of believing in people and bringing out the best in them.