El Sistema movement

These pages capture narrative and other digital content concerning NEC's relationship with the El Sistema music education program that began in Venezuela in the 1970s. Through various channels, NEC musicians got to know the Venezuelan program and its founder, Dr. José Antonio Abreu ’02 hon. D.M., and over five years in the 2000s 50 Sistema Fellows were trained at NEC.

2012-03-29 NEC President Tony Woodcock signs new friendship agreement with Venezuela's El Sistema. Read the press release.

Translating the El Sistema model in the U.S.

Back in the 1970s, Dr. José Antonio Abreu ’02 hon. D.M. brought together 11 youngsters to play music in a garage in Caracas, Venezuela. Over the years, Abreu built El Sistema—a national system of orchestral training—to a scale that now serves more than 300,000 young people, most of them from the poorest strata of society. A social development program that stresses musical excellence, El Sistema proceeds from the idea of instilling "affluence of the spirit," and seeks nothing less than the social, moral, educational, and professional transformation of the children it serves. It has also succeeded in creating hundreds of extraordinarily accomplished orchestras that have galvanized the imagination of the world's most esteemed musicians.

New England Conservatory has had a nearly decade-long relationship with El Sistema and Dr. Abreu. In June 2008, NEC President Tony Woodcock and Mark Churchill, then Dean of Preparatory and Continuing Education, brought a group of Boston educators, government, arts, and community leaders to Venezuela to study which elements of El Sistema's music education program could be successfully replicated in the United States.

While in Venezuela, President Woodcock and Dr. Abreu renewed the friendship agreement between NEC and El Sistema, and Dr. Abreu challenged the Conservatory to be a leader in the emerging movement to build El Sistema–inspired programs in the United States. With partners from around the country, NEC became a key part of a national network of organizations and music educators who share Dr. Abreu's vision and work together for its realization.

In February 2009, Dr. Abreu was honored with the TED Prize. This carried a $100,000 cash award along with the opportunity to make "One Wish to Change the World." Abreu asked the influential business leaders and thinkers present at the awards presentation to support the training of 50 young leaders "passionate about their art and social change" who could launch and direct nucleos (community-based music centers) in the U.S. and abroad.

Accordingly, in October 2009, the Abreu Fellows Program at New England Conservatory was launched—a one-year, postgraduate certificate program for accomplished musicians and music educators who seek to guide the development of El Sistema programs in the U.S. and beyond. Since 2012, this program is called the Sistema Fellows Program at New England Conservatory. NEC commited to training 10 Fellows a year for five years. Meet the five classes of Fellows.

Supporters of Dr. Abreu's dream are invited to invest in the Sistema Fellows Program at New England Conservatory. Find more information about funding opportunities at all levels.

Sistema Fellows in the news