Friday, May 9, 2008

A Sound Idea

We hear a lot about Venezuela’s political upheavals, but not enough about its publicly funded music education program, El Sistema. As a music lover and a supporter of any program that helps kids, I’m really impressed by this one, which rescues impoverished youngsters from drug abuse and crime. It’s won bipartisan support, achieved amazing results, and inspired at least one country (England) to emulate its success.

El Sistema trains kids to play classical music while also giving them a feeling of community, a safe haven, skills and purpose. The program had 11 students when it began in l975; today it serves 250,000. And some real talent has emerged. The Bolivar Youth Orchestra, made up of some of the most talented graduates aged 17 to 24, played at Carnegie Hall in the fall, and professional orchestras have hired El Sistema “graduates.”

Researchers say the benefits of music education range from teaching teamwork to helping kids focus academically. I think we could focus on it more in the U.S. (For more information, see

Click on the image above to watch a special 60 Minutes did on El Sistema's wonderful program.