El Sistema USA Transition Plan

Transition Plan for El Sistema USA Announced

New England Conservatory’s Tony Woodcock and Mark Churchill Announce Transition Plan for El Sistema USA

Tony Woodcock, President of New England Conservatory and Mark Churchill, Director of El Sistema USA, have agreed on a new way forward that will allow for the expansion of ESUSA while strengthening both institutions’ contributions to the powerful El Sistema movement in the U.S.  With the help and support of NEC, Mr. Churchill will create a new structure for the organization that serves the movement through advocacy, information-sharing, resources, and networking.  He will continue discussions with El Sistema leaders in the US and Venezuela and several organizations interested in providing a home for ESUSA in the coming years. The Conservatory will strengthen its focus on The Abreu Fellows Training Program at NEC, which has already contributed significantly to the creation of El Sistema-inspired music education programs across the nation.  NEC is committed to training the first wave of 50 Fellows by 2014-15, and to working collaboratively with ESUSA and El Sistema in Venezuela in this endeavor.

Founded by Dr. Jose Antonio Abreu in Venezuela, El Sistema is a social development program that is transforming the lives of 300,000 children at risk through intensive music training and participation in orchestras. Seeking to emulate its success, educators across the US have created nearly 40 nucleos (community music programs). The Abreu Fellows program, which trains outstanding young postgraduate musicians and music educators to lead those nucleos, is now in its second year (Fellows Class 2010-11 in photo above). Created to fulfill Dr. Abreu’s 2009 TED Prize wish, it was founded and continues to be sustained with financial and in-kind support from the TED community and others.  Alumni from the first Fellows class are currently leading programs in Juneau, Alaska; Durham, NC; Philadelphia, Atlanta, New York City, Boston (Rebecca Levi and Conservatory Lab Charter School students in photo), and Los Angeles.

“In establishing the Abreu Fellows program, NEC helped lay the foundation for the El Sistema movement in the USA,” said Woodcock.  “Mark Churchill, who was among the earliest music educators to understand the significance of the Venezuelan program, was one of the prime movers in launching the Fellows program. But he has always seen the many opportunities that could exist for El Sistema USA beyond this initial project.”

A strategic planning process for El Sistema USA, which was commissioned and funded by NEC in 2010, identified a number of priorities for its continued growth and development. Among those were an expanded website, a consulting program, and research and evaluation to measure the effectiveness of El Sistema-inspired programs in the U.S.

“I’m very optimistic about the future of El Sistema USA,” said Churchill.  “NEC has been a terrific and generous host for the early stages of its development, and I am confident that, based on the strong foundation established at NEC, ESUSA will continue to carry out its mission in increasingly effective ways.  During this transition period and in the future, I look forward to continued collaboration with the current and former Fellows, the nucleos of the El Sistema movement, and existing and potential partners.  It is our intention to develop the ideal structure and identify the best context to fulfill the long term potential for El Sistema USA to support the movement in the United States and beyond.”

Churchill, who will retain the title Dean Emeritus of Preparatory and Continuing Education, will remain at NEC through March and his position will continue to be funded by the Conservatory through the end of August. NEC will also provide El Sistema USA with a modest operating budget and part-time personnel during that time. After the transition period, NEC will retain Churchill, with the title Senior Advisor NEC, as a consultant to the Abreu Fellows program through 2014.

“Mark has been an extraordinary asset to NEC during his three decades within our community,” said Woodcock.  “His passion for El Sistema continues to inspire us and we look forward to a continued collaboration with him, ESUSA and El Sistema Venezuela for many years to come.” 

For further information, check the NEC Website. 


Recognized nationally and internationally as a leader among music schools, New England Conservatory offers rigorous training in an intimate, nurturing community to 720 undergraduate, graduate, and doctoral music students from around the world.  Its faculty of 225 boasts internationally esteemed artist-teachers and scholars.  Its alumni go on to fill orchestra chairs, concert hall stages, jazz clubs, recording studios, and arts management positions worldwide.  Nearly half of the Boston Symphony Orchestra is composed of NEC trained musicians and faculty.

The oldest independent school of music in the United States, NEC was founded in 1867 by Eben Tourjee. Its curriculum is remarkable for its wide range of styles and traditions.  On the college level, it features training in classical, jazz, Contemporary Improvisation, world and early music. Through its Preparatory School, School of Continuing Education, and Community Collaboration Programs, it provides training and performance opportunities for children, pre-college students, adults, and seniors.  Through its outreach projects, it allows young musicians to engage with non-traditional audiences in schools, hospitals, and nursing homes—thereby bringing pleasure to new listeners and enlarging the universe for classical music and jazz.

NEC presents more than 600 free concerts each year, many of them in Jordan Hall, its world- renowned, 106-year old, beautifully restored concert hall.  These programs range from solo recitals to chamber music to orchestral programs to jazz and opera scenes.  Every year, NEC’s opera studies department also presents two fully staged opera productions at the Cutler Majestic Theatre in Boston.

NEC is co-founder and educational partner of From the Top, a weekly radio program that celebrates outstanding young classical musicians from the entire country. With its broadcast home in Jordan Hall, the show is now carried by National Public Radio and is heard on 250 stations throughout the United States.

Contact: Ellen Pfeifer, Public Relations Manager
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Boston, MA 02115