For the majority of the world's children, the opportunity to learn about music -- with all the intellectual and emotional benefits music brings -- is just not a part of their world. Unless they happen to live in Venezuela. There, for the last 34 years, the visionary musician, economist, and reformer Dr. Jose Antonio Abreu has taught over 250,000 children and turned them into classical symphony musicians and performers, having in the process enriched their lives beyond measure.
Now Dr. Abreu's program, el Sistema, will become part of the American musical fabric, thanks to his recent winning of one of three TED prizes, an annual award of TED.com. The prize includes $100,000 for the winners to implement their personal "wish to change the world." Developing el Sistema in the U.S. and other countries is Dr. Abreu's fervent hope.
As the director of the TED Prize, I have had the pleasure of sharing the idea that has already transformed the lives of hundreds of thousands of children in Venezuela. Dr. Abreu's program has the potential to impact many thousands more children in the United States and beyond, if monies can be raised to fund the first group of teachers.
The Abreu Fellows Program, to be based at the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston, will be ready to open this fall. This first initiative is a one-year postgraduate program for accomplished young musicians who are committed to expanding el Sistema beyond Venezuela. The Abreu Fellows will spend a year studying in Boston and Caracas and leave with the tools to return to their communities to teach the el Sistema program.
While there are many opportunities for people to help worthy causes, we think el Sistema USA (www.elSistemaUSA.org) offers donors a way to build a grass-roots program with a hugely successful track record.
The website, elSistemaUSA.org, will serve as a clearinghouse for networking and training sessions, offering both support and advocacy for those interested in building el Sistema programs in their own communities. The Abreu Fellows Program's curriculum, along with teacher training materials, will be freely available on the website as a resource for anyone wishing to support local or international el Sistema programs. Those interested in helping el Sistema USA -- by identifying or supporting a fellow or funding scholarships -- can find specific information on the elSistemaUSA website. The youth orchestra performance is available at http://www.ted.com/talks/view/id/466.
"Music has to be recognized as an... agent of social development in the highest sense, because it transmits the highest values -- solidarity, harmony, mutual compassion," Dr. Abreu has said. "And it has the ability to unite an entire community and to express sublime feelings."
A simple concept lies behind Dr. Abreu's work. The symphony orchestra is about working together and can be a place where children learn to listen to each other and to respect one another. He continues to believe in a better future for Venezuela, wanting to change people and structures through music.
El Sistema has already transformed the lives of thousands of Venezuelan children and produced extraordinary talent, including Gustavo Dudamel, who this fall will be music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, and the bassist Edicson Ruiz, the youngest musician ever to join the Berlin Philharmonic.
And we're all betting it will transform the lives of many more. But it will take the support of the world.
Additional information on the program, the fellows, and how to help with funding scholarships is online at www.elSistemaUSA.org