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Five Resources on Venezuela’s Youth Music Program ‘El Sistema’

Venezuelan maestro Gustavo Dudamel greets young Venezuelan musicians during a concert in Caracas on Feb. 16. Photo by Leo Ramirez/AFP/Getty Images.

On Friday’s NewsHour, education correspondent John Merrow reports on how an adaptation of a music program from Venezuela is playing out in the United States. Venezuela’s national youth music program “El Sistema” has produced professional musicians, such as Los Angeles Philharmonic conductor Gustavo Dudamel, but it’s also recently stirred controversy in the country over government control.

We’ve put together a reader’s guide about the program and the associated flap:


The New York Times describes how two years ago, the office of President Hugo Chavez began to oversee El Sistema as part of its strategy to combat poverty, but critics say it was a move meant to burnish Chavez’s image:

The situation evokes age-old questions about the intersection of art and politics: Should they remain separate? Should artists denounce politics they don’t agree with? At what cost should culture be kept alive?

Read the full story.


The Associated Press reports on Dudamel’s first performance in Venezuela as conductor and music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic:

Dudamel was typically passionate and energetic as he led the orchestra on Wednesday night in Mahler’s Symphony No. 6, his curly hair bouncing when he jumped at a crescendo. The sold-out audience in Teresa Carreno Theater applauded enthusiastically for several minutes.

Read the full story.


Dudamel was named one of TIME magazine’s 100 most influential people of 2009. Peter Gelb, general manager of the Metropolitan Opera, wrote this about Dudamel:

With what appears to be unlimited talent and charisma, Gustavo has invigorated the sometimes staid world of classical music. His performances are ecstatic affairs, with musicians and audiences unable to resist his infectious joy. His concerts often end with his hugging each member of the orchestra.

Read more about Dudamel in his biography on the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s website.


On the NewsHour’s education page: Watch a video and hear from participants of El Sistema.

“Your soul and heart are filled because the pieces are beautiful songs and they are very meaningful,” says one participant named Juan. “The hardest thing when we sit to play is nerves. It feels like if you make a mistake you will mess up everyone.”


View a map of El Sistema-inspired music programs in the United States to find one in your area.

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