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Visit to El Sistema, USA, New England Conservatory, Boston

February 15, 2010 at 3:59 PM

Venezuela's system of music education ("El Sistema") has been making its way into the United States, and the youth orchestra where I serve as Board President has been very involved, working on ways to make it happen in our community.

To that end, Verdugo Young Musicians Association (VYMA) Music Director and Conductor, Samvel Chilingarian and I (VYMA Board President) traveled from Los Angeles to Boston, to visit El Sistema, U.S.A. headquarters at the New England Conservatory (NEC) in Boston. Thanks to Harmony Project’s gracious invitation and El Sistema, USA Director, Mark Churchill’s warm hospitality, VYMA participated in a series of seminars with the Abreu Fellows. Harmony Project offered invaluable information based on its music education programs in Los Angeles, while Sam and I shared the VYMA Music Project @ Longfellow Elementary experience, an outreach music program modeled on El Sistema.

From left to right: Mark Churchill, Director, El Sistema USA, Louise Ghandhi, Board President, Verdugo Young Musicians Association, Samvel Chilingarian, Music Director/Conductor, Verdugo Young Musicians Association, Stephanie Scherpf, Managing Director, El Sistema, USA

Sam and I also had a chance to observe master classes and youth orchestras/ensembles rehearsals at the New England Conservatory Preparatory School. 

The entire visit can be summarized by one word: Impressive! Still in its infancy, El Sistema, USA started the ‘Abreu Fellows’ program in September 2009. It is a top notch operation to prepare for every aspect of running an El Sistema program – or nucleo – in the United States: management, fundraising, curriculum, instrument collection, student and teacher recruitment, parent participation, community engagement and partnership building. The NEC is using the best resources in the field, from accomplished teaching artists and musicians to experts in management and development, including many from the NEC who volunteer their time.

The Abreu Fellows are a formidable group of young, lively, smart, energetic and dedicated musicians. Totally engaged, they are practically focused on their task, asking sharp, pointed questions. Some of them know where they will run a nucleo once their one year training is done, while others are still exploring possibilities.  After the initial months of theoretical training, they are understandably eager for action. They are about to get plenty of it! All of them are going to Venezuela in less than 2 weeks, where they will train with El Sistema founder, Maestro Antonio Abreu in Caracas and then spend close to 2 months in nucleos throughout Venezuela. Upon their return, they will be placed in U. S. based programs inspired by El Sistema for internships – hopefully one of them will pick VYMA Music Project at Longfellow!

Why is El Sistema, USA based at the NEC? A visit to its Preparatory School gives a clear answer: this is a music education institution that provides a vibrant, rich and nurturing environment for young musicians. We saw teachers (Benjamin Zander, Ramon Rivera) who simply adore their students and in return are adored by them. Students are treated with the utmost respect while being challenged to very high standards. The intense energy and quality of musicianship was reminiscent of what Sam and I saw in Venezuela.

The Abreu Fellows are not alone in being eager for action. We all are! Many of you are impatient for results in seeing an El Sistema USA take shape. It is clear that the leadership of El Sistema, USA is firmly thoughtful and willfully deliberate in building the solid foundation of an organization that is meant to last and bloom.

Bravo El Sistema, USA!

You can find more information about the Abreu Fellows, the NEC and El Sistema, USA by visiting

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