In 1975 José Antonio Abreu set up a music class for street kids in a Caracas car park.  The first day there were 11 children. The next day there were 25. The day after that, 75 kids showed up.

One teenager, who had been arrested nine times for armed robbery, says he was astonished to be given a clarinet. ‘I thought they were joking. Who’d trust a kid like me not to steal something like that?’


Today El Sistema supports 300,000 children in 157 orchestras all over Venezuela.

Abreu explains: ‘It's a program of social rescue and deep cultural transformation designed for the whole of Venezuelan society, with absolutely no distinctions whatsoever, but emphasizing the vulnerable and endangered social groups.

‘Mother Teresa of Calcutta insisted on something that always impressed me: the most miserable and tragic thing about poverty is not the lack of bread or a roof, but the feeling of being no one — the feeling of not being anyone, the lack of identification, the lack of public esteem. That's why the child's development in the orchestra and the choir provides him with a noble identity and makes him a role model for his family and community. It makes him a better student at school because it inspires in him a sense of responsibility, perseverance and punctuality that will greatly help him at school.

‘Music has to be recognized as an agent of social development in the highest sense, 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,’ says Abreu.

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