WATCH: El Sistema-Inspired Programs

El Sistema is a program in Venezuela that has provided music education to hundreds of thousands of the country’s neediest children. Gustavo Dudamel, the Music Director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, is among its most prominent graduates.

El Sistema-inspired organizations also exist all over the United States and the world. Below are just a few samples of some of the programs — and the work they’re doing.

If you have a program modeled after El Sistema and would like us to spotlight you, please e-mail us.

Helpful Note: If you click on the name of any organization, you will be taken to their official site.

Feel free to discuss this post on Twitter, and/or ask us questions about El Sistema and similar programs, by using the hash-tag #LMHarmony.

Before we go program-by-program, here’s an invaluable resource: a TED Talk by Jose Abreu, a director of El Sistema. This talk recently won a TED Prize:

Atlanta Music Project

AMP believes the pursuit of musical excellence leads to the development of confidence, creativity and ambition, thus sparking positive social change in the individuals and the communities they serve.

Here they are performing at TEDxPeachtree in November 2011:

Here they are performing We Shall Overcome in February of 2012:

And finally, here are some photos of Atlanta Music Project participants in action:


The Hartford Symphony Orchestra is in the midst of the pilot year of CityMusic, its after-school music program at the Latino Studies Academy at Burns, a public K-8 school in the Frog Hollow neighborhood of Hartford. Created in collaboration with Hartford Public Schools and the Connecticut Center for Nonviolence, CityMusic engages students through the transformative power of music, helping them to build a new school culture based on achievement and teamwork and teaching them to become ambassadors of social change in their community.

HSO Music Director Carolyn Kuan says, “When I came on as music director of the HSO this season, I knew that I wanted to start an El Sistema program in Hartford. I have seen what programs like CityMusic have done for children across the US; music gives them a sense of purpose, achievement, and responsibility. I have visited the Latino Studies Academy at Burns several times now and have seen the look on the students’ faces when we play and talk about music with them — this is going to be something special.”

Here’s a picture of the CityMusic kids at work:

Conservatory Lab Charter School

Conservatory Lab is an Expeditionary Learning school with a music focus. Music is infused into our student’s learning in three ways: first, music is integrated across the academic curriculum in Learning through Music expeditions; second, all students participate in El Sistema’s youth development, choral and orchestral program with direct music instruction and third, our weekly Listening Project ensures that all students study seven different genre of music ranging from folk songs to opera.

Here’s their Winter Concert from 2010:

Here are the kids playing “Are you my instrument?”

Corona Youth Music Project

The Corona Youth Music Project (or Núcleo Corona) is the first El Sistema-inspired program in the diverse area of Queens, NY.

The project includes an after-school programs and intensive seminars and camps. This “núcleo” will support at least one children’s symphony orchestra and one choir, along with instrumental and musicianship training. It serves the neighborhood by providing a safe, fun place for children to develop discipline, persistence, and self-esteem through music, and become productive valued members of society.

Here’s one project from Núcleo Corona:

For more info about the Corona Program and their work, check out this video:

Kalikolehua (El Sistema Hawaii)

The mission of Kalikolehua - El Sistema Hawai‘i is to give all underserved children in Hawaii the opportunity to change their lives and to develop passion and discipline through experience in orchestras and choirs in a loving community of excellence.

Kalikolehua works in cooperation with the Hawaii DOE and other community partners, offering orchestra and choir programs to children statewide. Rehearsals are held during and after school and on weekends at neighborhood sites. The first nucleo opened at Ka‘a‘awa Elementary School in January 2012. Students learn music through choir, orchestra and other programs. Orchestras will be developed at each site under the direction of adult conductors. Primary instrumental teachers are professional musicians. These teachers will train young volunteers who are advanced musicians to work with the students one-on-one between lessons. All children in the orchestra program are given free instruments when they are ready. The program will expand one nucleo at a time throughout the state of Hawai‘i.

Kalikolehua is a member of the US Network of El Sistema Nucleos, whose mission is to support free music education within a social context and for underserved youth in the United States by building a national network of shared resources, values, aspirations, and advocacy to identify and unify the growing number of geographically and organizationally diverse music programs inspired by El Sistema in Venezuela. Through this we seek to redirect lives, inspiring youth and their communities toward a more promising future.

Here are some recent pictures from Kalikolehua:

Longy School of Music

Longy School of Music has a collaboration with New York’s Bard College and the Los Angeles Philharmonic called “Take A Stand.”

Here’s a collage of images from Longy’s collaborative program:

New Brunswick Youth Orchestra

The Goals of Sistema NB are to inspire children to achieve their full potential through music, to build values like discipline, teamwork and respect and to foster qualities like joy, confidence and hope. Founded in 2009, Sistema NB currently engages 220 children, in two orchestra centres and operates 5 days/week, 3 hours/day. By 2014, Sistema NB will open two additional orchestra centres and serve 500-600 children daily.

Here is a short documentary for more information:


ORCHkids, a program of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, believes passionately that music has the power to change lives, and the BSO should lead the movement. By providing a strong foundation and developing the whole individual, they can position these students for lifelong success — success not limited to music, but in all areas of their lives.

Here’s a video summarizing the first year of the program:

Here’s two pictures of the ORCHkids crew in action:

Play On, Philly!

Play On, Philly! is an out-of-school music education program which seeks to use music a vehicle for social innovation. They engage children for at least three hours each weekday, providing them an opportunity to master a standard orchestral instrument; they consider themselves fortunate to have key partnerships with outstanding social, educational, and artistic organizations throughout Philadelphia that understand the needs of children and families. Prevention is key, and early intervention will make it possible for children to master complex executive functioning skills as they grow to improve academic motivation and classroom success.

Here’s video of Stanford Thompson, the creator and director of the program, conducting his crew:

Here’s Play On, Philly! doing Brahms Hungarian Dance:

San Diego Youth Symphony

Since 1945, San Diego Youth Symphony (SDYS) has given thousands of musicians the opportunity to study and perform classical repertoire at a highly advanced level. It is the sixth oldest continuously operating youth orchestra in the United States and the resident youth orchestra in the City of San Diego’s historic Balboa Park. SDYS’ program has grown during the thirteen-year tenure of Artistic Director Jeff Edmons from one orchestra to three advanced symphony orchestras and five large ensembles for students at the intermediate and introductory levels. In addition, the organization now trains over fifty students of all levels in chamber music, including string quartets and octet, wind and brass ensembles, advanced percussion, and jazz.

Here’s video from their Community Opus project, which is directly inspired by El Sistema:

Here’s a portrait of the families involved in the Community Opus project:

Here’s a collage photo of SDYS at work and at play:

Sistema Australia

Influenced by the tremendous success of El Sistema, a group of Australian musicians, music educators and interested others have decided to create an Australian version – to provide a joyous music education programme for Australian children – focusing primarily on those less fortunate communities in Australia but eventually extending to all Australian children who want to learn and play music.

Here’s some of the kids in the program:

Here’s a great video summarizing their work:

Sistema Scotland

Sistema Scotland is a charity set up in the belief that children can gain huge social benefits by playing in a symphony orchestra. They use music-making to foster confidence, teamwork, pride and aspiration in the children taking part — and across their wider community.

Here are highlights from their third anniversary celebration, held this past summer:

Here’s a short film about Sistema Scotland. Enjoy the accents :)


Soundscapes is a non-profit, El Sistema-inspired, educational development organization teaching transformational life-skills to socio-economically disadvantaged youth in Virginia, using music study and ensemble performance.

Here’s a video of some Soundscapes participants doing the Chromatic Scale:

Here’s a profile of Soundscapes from their local PBS affiliate:

And here’s a picture from their “exploratory recorder” class:

Tune Up Philly

The mission of Philadelphia Youth Orchestra’s Tune Up Philly program is to nurture urban children in challenging social and economic conditions by keeping them engaged in success through weekday out-of-school hours music instruction. Through its Tune Up Philly program, Philadelphia Youth Orchestra organization believes that music education is a powerful vehicle for children to master skills that will enable them to acquire valuable tools for cooperative learning, teamwork, academic success and self-esteem. Tune Up Philly currently works with 70 students at the People for People Charter School in North Philadelphia.

Here’s video of them in action:

Here’s a quick photo montage of the crew in action:

Union City Music Project

The UCMP will go beyond just learning music scales; it will promote fundamental life skills such as self-esteem, self-expression, cooperative learning, discipline, and creativity by teaching music in an orchestral setting. UCMP participants will receive free musical instruction and instruments, and will have the opportunity to attend a full range of cultural, social, and enrichment experiences.

The UCMP will use the power of music to cultivate tomorrow’s workforce and leaders, create a source of pride for the community, and provide economic opportunities for Union City, NJ.

Designed after El Sistema, the world-renowned Venezuelan Music Education program that has changed the lives of millions of people around the world, the UCMP’s ultimate goal is to establish the Union City Youth Orchestra.

Here’s a video of that crew in action:

Verdugo Young Musicians Association

In September 2009, the Verdugo Young Musicians Association (VYMA; it’s pronounced ‘veema’) launched the VYMA Music Project at Longfellow Elementary, a Title I school in Pasadena with 79 percent of the students on free or reduced lunch . Now in its third year, the program serves over 100 students from K-5, a fifth of the school. Instruments are provided and instruction is free. The curriculum is impressive: seven hours per week of classes from different levels of musicianship, (K, I & II) to string fundamentals, beginning string orchestra, orchestra & choir. These children are real musicians — only younger!

Here’s a clip from the 2012 Southern California Seminario, an all-day gathering of musicians and parents from three different schools:

Here’s a picture from the beginning of the event documented in that video:

Youth Orchestra LA (YOLA)

Through Gustavo Dudamel’s Youth Orchestra LA (YOLA) program – inspired by Venezuela’s revolutionary El Sistema – the LA Phil and its community partners provide free instruments, intensive music training, and academic support to students from underserved neighborhoods, enabling every child to contribute using their full potential.

The YOLA program at EXPO Center, part of Exposition Park in South L.A., has grown to include three orchestras, a preschool program, mentorship, group lessons, chamber music and parent ensembles. The program serves hundreds of students who attend four days each week. In addition, students perform annually at Walt Disney Concert Hall and have appeared multiple times on the iconic stage of the Hollywood Bowl.

Located in the Rampart District, YOLA at HOLA (Heart of Los Angeles) serves hundreds of students with intensive after-school orchestral instruction five days a week. Classes include music creativity, singing and solfège, ensemble rehearsals, and an hour of academic tutoring daily. This holistic approach fosters a sense of community and provides the students with the opportunity to take advantage of HOLA’s exceptional programs and resources.

The YOLA Neighborhood Project (YNP) aims to build healthy communities through universal access to music. In South L.A. and the Rampart District, school-day residencies inspire local students to join YOLA; local parent ensembles provide families with the opportunity to learn music; and LA Phil neighborhood concerts allow the community at large to experience one of the world’s greatest orchestras in their own backyard. Each year, YNP culminates in a joint performance of over 1,000 children from partner schools and YOLA – demonstrating the immense power and joy of musical collaboration.

Here’s a picture of some YOLA students at work and play:

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1 comment

Pasadena, Philadelphia, Toronto, LA….SO WHERE IS NEW YORK CITY??

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