Geoff Baker (Royal Holloway, University of London)
'Venezuela's Youth Orchestra Programme El Sistema: Myths, Metaphors, Realities'
Abstract:The Venezuelan youth orchestra program El Sistema has garnered much attention and praise in recent years. 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 programme’s founder, Jose Antonio Abreu, and of the gestation of the project itself, I analyse the notion that El Sistema is a “revolutionary social programme”. 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? It is widely reported that the program is extremely successful: on what basis are such claims made, and to what extent are they verifiable?
Geoff Baker is Reader in Musicology and Ethnomusicology at Royal Holloway, University of London. He specialises in the music of Latin America. His publications include Imposing Harmony: Music and Society in Colonial Cuzco (2008), the edited volume Music and Urban Society in Colonial Latin America (2011), and Buena Vista in the Club: Rap, Reggaetón, and Revolution in Havana (2011). He has just completed a new book on El Sistema.
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