Introducing el Sistema and the CMEA position paper crafted to clarify connections between CMEA and El Sistema projects existing in Canada
Dr. Mary Kennedy, MAL, CMEA December, 2012
In writing this preface to the position paper, I have taken the liberty to quote from Dr. Jonathan Govias’ (2011) article on el Sistema, published in Canadian Music Educator, 53(1), 21-23.
In the following excerpt, Govias describes el Sistema programme, which originated under the leadership of Dr. Abreu in Venezuela: In the most prosaic of terms, el Sistema is a national after school music education program offering classical music ensemble experiences for individuals from ages 3-30. The supporting theoretical model is organized around five fundamental principles, the distinct guiding characteristics which can be identified consistently across the 180-plus music schools (also known as núcleos) collectively serving more than 300,000 children. (p. 21) Govias continues by naming and explaining the five fundamental principles of el Sistema:
1. Social Change: The primary objective is social transformation through the pursuit of musical excellence. One happens through the other, and neither is prioritized at the expense of the other.
2. Ensembles: The focus of el Sistema is the orchestra or choral experience.
3. Frequency: el Sistema ensembles meet multiple times every week over extended periods.
4. Accessibility: el Sistema programs are free, and are not selective in admission.
5. Connectivity: Every núcleo is linked at the urban, regional, and national levels, forming a cohesive network of services and opportunities for students across the country. (p. 21)
Knowledge about and interest in the el Sistema concept has spread to many countries outside Venezuela. Govias himself has participated in the development of national el Sistema initiatives in the UK and South Africa. Here in Canada, el Sistema-inspired programs exist in several jurisdictions, in the provinces of New Brunswick, Quebec and Ontario, to name a few. It is likely that the interest in such programs will continue. It is for this reason that the CMEA, as the national umbrella group for music education in Canada, created a position paper on the phenomenon of el Sistema.
The photos are from the collection of Dr. Jonathan Govias, taken on a recent trip to Venezuela.