A Gentle Silent Revolution

El Sistema is a 'system' of using music as a means for social change which has rocked the country of Venezuela. Through providing every child with access to free music tuition, El Sistema has breathed new life into children from chronically poor neighbourhoods and underprivileged backgrounds, providing them with hope, self-awareness, self-reliance and empowerment through the rich education that classical orchestral and choral music brings. Children are supplied with instruments from as young as two years old, and encouraged very early on to in turn teach the younger pupils – creating a self-sustaining and integral artistic cycle. No child is excluded.

“In its essence the orchestra and choir and much more than artistic structures: they are examples and schools of social life, because to sing and to play together means to intimately coexist towards perfection and excellence following a strict discipline of organisation and coordination in order to seek the harmonic interdependence of voices and instruments. That's how the children build a spirit of solidarity and fraternity among them, develop their self esteem, and foster the ethical and aesthetic values related to this music in all its sense. This is why music is immensely important in the awakening of sensibility, the forging of values, and in the training of youngsters to teach other kids.  Music is life, nothing else. Music is life.” __José Antonio Abreu, creator of El Sistema, 2005

This System has spawned hundreds of youth orchestras all over Venezuela, culminating in the Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra – a vibrant, world-class ensemble that are constantly touring, and are in as much demand as the Berlin Philharmonic.

This time of global economic instability has been a wake-up call for artists, and it has deeply affected the world-wide musical community. Heavily reliant on government and private funds, major orchestras are now struggling, musicians are finding it increasingly difficult to sustain themselves through music alone, as the art to which we dedicate ourselves is deeply undervalued in our society. A huge change in the perception of the arts and its processes – including creation, funding and education must take place if we as artists are to survive and continue to develop the world's cultural well-being.

Here in Australia, we are working at developing a unique system of music education based on Venezuela's systematised orchestral and choral music education model of El Sistema, tailored to our own country's specific needs. The fundamental tenet will be to provide musical education to every child who wishes to receive it – regardless of race, gender, abilities, disabilities, location or the facilities to pay for it. Based out of several 'nucleos' – music centres – we intend to provide instrumental and choral lessons to all children, focusing particularly on those in disadvantaged communities – rural and urban, indigenous and non-indigenous. Through a curriculum incorporating a broad range of classical repertoire as well as supporting many new Australian compositions, the musical education will provide Australian children with the tools that they require to develop themselves personally and to help shape the country as a culturally rich and spiritually prosperous society.

“A country is poor because it is poor, a man is poor because he is poor, and since he is poor he cannot get prepared, he cannot access education, and therefore he remains poor. The orchestra breaks through this cycle of material poverty. By being part of an orchestra, a child that is materially poor, becomes spiritually rich, so he begins to aspire and struggles to be better, and generates an energy that his material poverty doesn't provide.” __ José Antonio Abreu, creator of El Sistema, 2005

Music has always been a crucial vessel for transmitting morals, histories, and for melting social barriers as the the truly universal language. Australia, thankfully, does not currently possess the same urgent social and political situation as Venezuela. It does, however, have a culturally distinct environment where music is not ingrained in the culture as much as it is in the older nations of Europe, Africa or Latin America. Perceived values in Australia generally revolve more around monetary values than cultural ones, and the arts – though vibrant in many cities – is not given necessary support from the earliest stage; childhood education. Sistema Australia has the potential to use music as a vessel for change in our nation, building a culturally rich and socially conscious generation at the same time as spreading messages of the necessity of music and the arts.

Through a plethora of performances, community and inter-arts collaborations, international exchanges and a multitude of artistic expression born from El Sistema, we can support the bigger concepts of harmonious and sustainable living, awareness of the environment and simply the pure joy of playing an instrument. Though many who pass through Sistema will go on to pursue non-musical careers, as children they will have had access to the value of a musical education – developing skills in coordination, concentration, reasoning, discipline, responsibility, teamwork, self-confidence, creativity and will always have the opportunity to relive the pleasure of music by playing their instrument in a community orchestra, ensemble or at a Classical Revolution jam in the local pub at any stage throughout their lives.

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Please Donate to Sistema Australia's Music Programs!

You are invited to become a supporter of the Sistema Australia music programs. By making a tax deductible donation to the Australia Cultural Fund, operated by the Australia Business Arts Foundation – it will provide essential financial support for Sistema Australia's after-school music program for children during 2012.

Download a PDF of the AbaF Donation form, or donate online here.