A Venezuelan economist and amateur musician by the name of Jose Antonio Abreu, believing that young people in extremely impoverished circumstances could be rescued from their environment and directed away from a likely future life of crime and drug abuse by exposure to classical music, founded what is now called El Sistema (the system). That was in 1975.
Today, his theory has proved so sound that there are approximately 300,000 youngsters involved in this program, which includes hundreds of youth and children's orchestras. The best of these perform not only in Venezuela and other Latin American countries, but also throughout the United States and much of Europe.
CBS 60 Minutes, with Bob Simon reporting, aired - a year or so ago - an in depth piece that I'd like to share with you.
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You might recall, from watching that report, the name Gustavo Dudamel. This young man, still in his 20's, is a product of the system that Dr. Abreu initiated so many years ago. You can find a very nice writeup about Gustavo, now an internationally-recognized conductor, here. (From CBS evening news --2008 -- Bob Simon reporting)
In 1995, Dr. Abreu was appointed Special Ambassador for the development of a global network of youth and children's orchestras and choirs by UNESCO. When he was given the Venezuelan B'nai B'rith Human Rights Award in 2008, he summarized the goal of El Sistema and his life's work by saying, "In the struggle for Human Rights, let us vigorously incorporate children's sublime right to music, in whose bosom shines Beingness in its splendor and its ineffable mystery. Let us reveal to our children the beauty of music and music shall reveal to our children the beauty of life."
Just this past month, one of only three of the prestigious TED prizes for 2009 was awarded to Dr. Abreu. From that award ceremony, under the conductorship of Gustavo Dudamel, here are some of Venezuela's elite high school musicians performing Shostakovich's Symphony No. 10, 2nd movement, and Arturo Marquez' Danzon No. 2. Enjoy, and perhaps even be as amazed as I was!