Research Seminar Announcement
Venezuela's Youth Orchestra Program El Sistema: Myths, Metaphors and Realities
Dr Geoff Baker, Royal Holloway, University of London
Tuesday 13th November
Further details from Lucy Green, firstname.lastname@example.org
All are welcome!
The Venezuelan youth orchestra program El Sistema has garnered much
attention and praise in recent years. It has been enthusiastically
endorsed by major musical figures - Simon Rattle described it as "the
most important thing happening in music anywhere in the world" - and
by prestigious international institutions such as UNESCO and the
Inter-American Development Bank.
Yet there is very little in the way of research on El Sistema.
External monitoring and evaluation have been largely absent, so most
writing on the topic is based on spectacular concerts, red-carpet
tours, official interviews, and information from El Sistema's PR
department. This paper represents a first attempt to examine
critically some of the claims made by and for El Sistema on the basis
of extensive research in Venezuela.
Touching on the little-known history of the program's founder, Jose
Antonio Abreu, and of the gestation of the project itself, I analyze
the notion that El Sistema is a "revolutionary social program." It is
widely reported that the program is extremely successful: on what
basis are such claims made, and to what extent are they verifiable?
After considering the relationship between orchestral metaphors and
realities, I scrutinize the musical and social education that
participants receive through orchestral training, and thus the core
idea of "music as social action." Addressing issues such as social
inclusion, discipline, democracy, and teamwork, I ask: does an
orchestra represent an ideal, harmonious society, as the program
claims? If El Sistema is a "school of social life," what sort of
society does it model?
The implications of this analysis may be significant, given that the
program has captured the imagination of music educators and policy
makers around the globe and is being enthusiastically copied in dozens
of countries, including the UK.
Geoff Baker is a Reader in the music department at Royal Holloway,
University of London. He is the author of Imposing Harmony: Music and
Society in Colonial Cuzco (Duke University Press, 2008), which won the
American Musicological Society's Robert Stevenson Award in 2010, and
Buena Vista in the Club: Rap, Reggaetón, and Revolution in Havana
(Duke University Press, 2011). His recent research encompasses
childhood musical learning and music education in Cuba and Venezuela.
He was co-investigator on the AHRC-funded project "Growing into
music," and is making a series of documentaries and short films about
young musicians in Cuba and Venezuela. He also held a British Academy
Research Development Award in 2010-11 and undertook fieldwork in
Venezuela on the country's orchestral music education program, El
Sistema. He is in the later stages of writing a book on this topic. He
is currently attached to Oxford University, working on a project
entitled "Music, Digitization, Mediation: Towards Interdisciplinary