“On a drizzly spring day in Boston earlier this month, three dozen musicians mingled in the President’s Library of the New England Conservatory (NEC), one of the most prestigious music institutions in the country. The weather did not dampen the infectious enthusiasm in the room. After all, 10 of these musicians were about to mark a milestone: graduation from the competitive Sistema Fellows Program, an initiative born out of El Sistema and made a reality by the TED Prize.
El Sistema is a network of youth orchestras founded by pianist and conductor Jose Antonio Abreu in 1975. Officially called the “National System of Youth and Children Symphony Orchestras of Venezuela,” El Sistema (“the system”) teaches orchestral instruments to Venezuelan children from poor and crowded barrios. In some cases the kids become income-earning musicians (like LA Philharmonic conductor Gustavo Dudamel); but in all cases kids learn lessons about citizenship, responsibility and working together. In 2009, Abreu won the TED Prize and wished to bring El Sistema to the United States. He proposed a training program to equip 50 young musicians to lead youth orchestras in their communities. The 10 Fellows about to graduate represented the program’s final class of musicians trained not just to play, but to lead, plan, fund raise and create sustainable local music programs.”