Classical music lovers will probably know that Gustavo Dudamel is the recently appointed music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic. But all those interested in education should take an interest in this remarkable young man.
Mr. Dudamel, who is thirty years old, is certainly an excellent conductor. To see for yourself, watch this YouTube video of Dudamel conducting the Gothenburg (Sweden) Sympthony, where he is also music director, in the first movement of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, in 2009. Then, for good measure, you might want to view this 60 Minutes report, with more clips of Dudamel’s conducting and footage from an interview with him.
But Dudamel is also much more than merely a conductor, however fine. He has become an ambassador for a unique system of music education that has been developed in his native Venezuela, known as “El Sistema” (The System).
El Sistema is basically a network of music schools that provide free musical instruments and intensive music classes, beginning from Kindergarten age through high school, to children from the poorest families in Venezuela.
The project’s founder, José Antonio Abreu, has explained the philosophy underpinning El Sistema as follows:
Music has to be recognized as an … agent of social development in the highestsense, because it transmits the highest values — solidarity, harmony, mutual compassion. And it has the ability to unite an entire community and to express sublime feelings.
In other words, El Sistema is so successful because it gives at-risk children from impoverished communities a sense of togetherneess in which aspiration and achievement are highly prized. As a product of the program, Gustavo Dudamel has helped to raise consciousness of El Sistema throughout the world.
El Sistema’s results have been so impressive that efforts are being made to replicate this type of music school in this country. Some twenty El Sistema-type schools now exist all around the U.S.
One that has received special recognition is the Conservatory Lab Charter School, near Boston (go here). Another is the Atlanta Music Project, run by Dantes Rameau (go here). To watch a CNN interview with Mr. Rameau about El Sistema, go here.
El Sistema has also been the subject of an inspiring documentary film, entitled Tocar y Luchar (To Play and To Fight), by Alberto Arvelo Mendoza, that showcases the project’s young people, their teachers, and their accomplishements together (go here).
For a TED profile of El Sistema’s founder, José Antonio Abreu, go here.