El Sistema blog

There is an increasing number of blogs and forums devoted to El Sistema, but while they play an important role in raising awareness of the program, they are predominantly spaces of advocacy rather than critical reflection. This blog is intended to promote deeper understanding of El Sistema and more debate about a number of questions that the program raises.

Complete index of posts: (most recent first)

Too little, too late: Venezuelans respond to Gustavo Dudamel

The Philanthropic Ogre

From Vienna to Caracas

Fake news? El Sistema and the IDB launch their study

Dudamel and the Bolívars: Media responses and silences

Tricia Tunstall’s Alternative Facts

José Antonio Abreu: musician, philanthropist, ogre, caudillo

Professionalization or rescuing the poor? The origins of El Sistema (in Abreu’s own words)

What is the role of music in the age of Trump and Maduro?

“In El Sistema there are no poor people”: follow-up to the IDB study

IDB study sheds doubt on El Sistema’s claims of social inclusion and transformation (full version)

IDB study sheds doubt on El Sistema’s claims of social inclusion and transformation (short version)

New Year, Old Problems: Rolex Man in Vienna

“The Venezuelan musical miracle needs a miracle”

Building for an uncertain future

Size matters

Trumpism and music education

The tightening of the screw

Playing for their Lives: Sins of mission and omission

The cult in the spotlight

Is the party over?

“It’s all true.” So what now?

Reflections on ISME 2016 (Part 2): The evolving research on El Sistema

Reflections on ISME 2016 (Part 1)

Before you turn the page: Connecting the parallel worlds of Sistema and critical scholarship

The Simón Bolívar orchestra hits a bum note; and a neuroscientist is led astray

The AHRC Report and In Harmony Sistema England

Is Sistema a “movement”?

“The music book of our times”

Super Bowl Part 2 (or what would have been cool)

Who won the Super Bowl (halftime show)?

Felicity Laurence reviews “El Sistema: Orchestrating Venezuela’s Youth”

Is El Sistema a busted flush?

ACT special issue on El Sistema

Two Sistema articles in VAN Magazine

When is it a good thing to be plagiarised?

Stop press! A story about the real Sistema in The Times

El Sistema: the future of classical music?

Hand in Glove: El Sistema and Neoliberal Research

Music or Social Action?

El Sistema, politics, and citizenship (again…)

Scripp, Mazzocchi, and an insider’s view of El Sistema

ESOVY’s first birthday: some reflections

Exploring the shallows: Nicholas Kenyon on “El Sistema: Orchestrating Venezuela’s Youth”

A review and a couple of omissions

Baker and Sistema Fellows Agree. Whatever Next?

Interview in Newsweek

Review or advocacy? Kathryn Jourdan on “El Sistema”

Gillian Howell reviews “El Sistema: Orchestrating Venezuela’s Youth”

CONAC: Toccata and Fugue

Musik als Blendwerk

El Sistema in the (social) media

On bullshit and El Sistema

Censorship and self-censorship in the Sistema sphere

Report on “El Sistema and the Alternatives” conference

Introduction to “El Sistema and the Alternatives” conference

Sistemology

A pact with the devil

Larry Scripp on “El Sistema: Orchestrating Venezuela’s Youth”

Keeping El Sistema out of politics?

El Sistema’s 500-year history

Review of “El Sistema: Orchestrating Venezuela’s Youth” by Anna Bull in LSE Review of Books

Critical openings

Registration now open for the conference “El Sistema and the Alternatives”

Interview with Geoff Baker by Sistema Global

Response to Jonathan Govias, “Sistema through the noise”

First academic review of “El Sistema: Orchestrating Venezuela’s Youth”

“Does elite music teaching leave pupils open to abuse?”

Zapata and Abreu

The SBSO’s European tour

New Guardian article

Inside the Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra

Response to Carlos M. Añez

Response to Tunstall in Classical Music

Abreu, Chávez, and oil

Yearly roundup 2014

Response to New York Times and Tunstall reviews

Response to Jonathan Govias’s review

The Spectator, Music Matters, and LA Times

Weekly roundup, Sat 29 November

Response to Hewett review

Weekly roundup, Sat 22 November

Music education, discipline, and profit

An interview with Diego Matheuz

A critical miscellany

Journalism and research

Data, statistics, and anecdotes

How big is El Sistema?

Publishing “El Sistema”

Reflections on ISME 2014

Spot the difference

Taking a Stand?

Searching for complexity

A revolutionary project

Political systems 

A day out in Liverpool

Researching El Sistema (2)

Politics and El Sistema

Learning from the U.S?

Constructing El Sistema

Researching El Sistema

Scam, Voodoo, or The Future of Music? The El Sistema Debate

20 thoughts on “El Sistema blog

  1. To Geoff Baker:

    Understanding the principles of aerodynamics and discussing the virtues of various planes are very different things from flying. Your impressive blog full of opinions and challenges, and Toronyi-Lalic’s provocation full of judgments unburdened by knowledge, are very different from the flying that is El Sistema in action. The historically unprecedented flight of El Sistema, with its positive impact on the lives of hundreds of thousands of young people in Venezuela, and approaching a million around the world, rises because of the power of its experiences, whether or not those experiences have been researched to your satisfaction. I draw this distinction because these recent articles critical of El Sistema may dishearten dedicated practitioners who don’t realize you are targeting the claims about and advocacy for the work, not the work itself. The fact that you don’t agree with aspects of the talk about El Sistema doesn’t mean that the work is not as powerful as the many who have dedicated their lives to it and staked their reputations on it say.

    You claim the purpose of your critique is “to get to the bottom of El Sistema”-does one get to the bottom of the experience of flying, or how airplanes have changed our world? You and self-styled provocateur Toronyi-Lalic, whose broadside you characterize as “principled,” purport to examine whether El Sistema is a hoax because the hard data affirming its success is slim. Let me point out that scientific research has still not proven the existence of gravity, although few now denounce it as a scam. The research on El Sistema is not deep; no one disputes this. It will get better and teach us more. But scientific research on causality in education is very hard to produce, so even millions of dollars of research investment may not “prove” to skeptics that the El Sistema plane is flying high and well. Let’s face it: what you are “getting to the bottom of” are the claims people make about El Sistema; it bothers you that people say things that exceed the conclusions that have been certified by solid research.

    Claims aside, the fact that hundreds of thousands of kids are at this moment pouring most of their free time into perfecting the sound of Beethoven is not a scam that needs to be punctured. The fact that many of these children (I would say the majority based on my experience) experience joy, confidence, and a sense of belonging they have not felt before is no trick of intellectual analysis or phantasm of enthusiastic verbiage. I am glad that Abreu, Dudamel, the thousands of El Sistema teachers, and their hundreds of thousands of students keep their eyes on the flying, even while others criticize, quibble, and manage to miss looking up and really seeing the marvel in full flight.

    Eric Booth
    (Consultant to the El Sistema movement in the U.S., and elsewhere)

  2. Eric,

    Thank you for your response. To continue with your flying metaphor, mass aviation needs more than dashing pilots and glamorous flight attendants in order to be viable. There are all sorts of people doing grunt work behind the scenes making sure that the planes don’t fall out of the sky too often. Some of those people probe for structural and systemic weaknesses, because there is an understanding that behind the marvel of flying lie mundane realities – ordinary people, ordinary equipment – and if they are not working to the best of their capacity, then there is a risk of a plane crash. These people are not killjoys who want to put an end to mass aviation or think that human beings shouldn’t fly. But their skepticism and asking of difficult questions are an essential part of the business – without them, a plane would be as much illusion as marvel, and at risk of falling out of the sky at any moment.

    A couple of details: I did not purport to examine whether El Sistema is a hoax – I examined whether the counter-arguments stood up to scrutiny. In this article, I was not addressing the question of whether El Sistema works so much as why people think it works. What bothered me, and led me to write this article, was not that people were saying things that exceed the conclusions that have been certified by solid research – there is nothing new in that – but that Tononyi-Lalic’s critics responded as it they had evidence on their side.

    And a final point: you write that “the research on El Sistema is not deep; no one disputes this. It will get better and teach us more.” Yet you end with a picture of people who “quibble” and “criticize” and thereby miss the point. This ambivalence towards research pervades the Sistema sphere. It is understandable – academics can be a pain in the ass – but at the same time dangerous, especially within an educational program: El Sistema’s supporters will not learn more if they reject critical responses as quibbling and researchers as killjoys. We are back to flying: do we want flight safety experts, or just pilots?

    Geoff

  3. Outside of an orchestra I can think of no other time at which several hundred young people can co-operate simultaneously. I agree with your analysis that it may be impossible to know whether El Sistema is a better investment than alternative forms of arts education, or simply better than nothing, but in the meantime we can have a pretty good guess that the discipline, confidence and affiliation experienced by each young member of such an ensemble might result in some long terms benefits. Would you mind me asking what you hope the outcome of this debate will be?

  4. Thanks for your response. Some further thoughts. 

    We are speaking from different frames of reference–always so interesting when that happens–an opportunity for clarification. In our aviation metaphor, I don’t see, as you do, our discussions about it, your observations, or Toronyi-Lalic’s provocations, or responses from various people, as being the work of the behind the scenes crew that keeps the planes aloft. All that behind the scenes work you describe is what I see in the hands of teachers, and program leaders, and janitors, and kids-teaching-kids, etc. I see the talk-cohort as ground-standing commenters upon the planes, maybe aviators at others times, and maybe just people with opinions about flying. Do you really see your postings as equivalent to a flight attendant’s contribution (someone whose sole job is to make sure of the safety and comfort of everyone involved in the action of flying) or grounds crew (who prepare and equip the plane for good flying)? 

    My comment was to distinguish for the growing pool of practitioners that the critiques weren’t really about the quality of the work at all, just comments about comments. I would also want to point out to you that neither you nor Toronyi-Lalic have shown any interest in whether this phenomenon of the El Sistema movement succeeds or fails; the comments do not feel like constructive observations (even if negative) informed by a caring stakeholder in the endeavor (the healthy role of the critic in the arts ecosystem)–just opinions like potshots at aspects of the talking about the work that you feel like commenting upon. Of course that is your right, but it is not much of an offering to a hard-working, dedicated worldwide phenomenon. And I would add that you and Toronyi-Lalic have managed to avoid even one positive statement about the mission or practice of this important worldwide movement–that seems pretty stingy and imbalanced to me. I absolutely appreciate critical response, and dish out plenty myself in the trenches (or to stick with the metaphor, aboard the plane) in the full perspective of what is being attempted and accomplished, and how difficult it is. 

    Finally, I don’t think we disagree about the research. The ambivalence you pick up is not driven by fear or avoidance in my experience, as you seem to suggest. The ambivalence is the practitioners’ recognition that it is really hard to illuminate the consequential aspects of El Sistema work in “scientific ways”–the impact of arts education in general has failed to make its case in research in its century-plus place in schools. And not only is it difficult, it is expensive. And young programs that struggle to raise enough money to support the learning well, struggle to raise additional funds to research it, and raise even more to accomplish the difficult research efforts required of this movement. It is my experience of the people in this movement that they would dearly love to have significant, illuminating, instructive research data—they know the work is imperfect and could become better with good research. Yes, they would certainly use research results in advocacy efforts; but even more, they would embrace it for strong guidance. So, I don’t think, as you may, that practitioners would prefer to avoid research; they are just struggling to manage the research imperative along with figuring out how to do this work. Our Venezuelan heros didn’t have the need or requirement to use formal research as a primary tool for program guidance, that was their style, so we are early in the research development phase. Research is going to be a long and expensive project for this movement.

    And yes, some people DO make claims about El Sistema that are not supported by research, which doesn’t mean their claims are not true, and others (like you and Toronyi-Lalic and me) like to make comments about the comments. Let’s just not mistake opinion-sharing for making a difference in kids’ lives.  Let’s not mistake the difficulty of launching complex research initiatives for irresponsible avoidance of leadership.

  5. Thanks for your comment Alan. The outcome I hope for is quite simply better understanding of El Sistema. If people are going to try to build a global program based on El Sistema, it seems to me to be fairly important to understand what El Sistema is. One of the surprising things that comes out of the numerous public fora on El Sistema is that there are some fairly significant gaps in people’s knowledge.

    So, going back to where this all started, a lot of people seem to think that the case for the project’s success is closed – and it isn’t. A lot of people seem to think that El Sistema has an inclusive attitude to popular/traditional music – and it doesn’t, or at least it hasn’t historically. Those seem to be two fairly important points to be getting on with, since they raise the question: is making classical orchestral music the centre of music education a good thing? I’m sure you agree that’s an important question, and it really doesn’t move things forward if the (incorrect) answer comes back: (a) of course it’s a good thing, the IDB says so in its report; (b) it’s not just about classical music, everyone learns Venezuelan music too.

    So I guess the outcome I hope for is a better quality of debate, based on realities rather than myths. Some people will believe that any debate is just a matter of hot air and the only thing that matters is doing; I, on the other hand, think that any large-scale enterprise needs to be scrutinized carefully to ensure that it is working to the best of its capacity. I think this applies to political parties, banks, oil companies, education systems, and so on. You mention other forms of arts education: wouldn’t it be interesting to do a comparative evaluation of an orchestral núcleo and a traditional music núcleo? Is it really better just to proclaim “the orchestra works best, it’s obvious,” and leave it at that?

    Geoff

  6. Eric,

    I think we’ve probably pushed the aviation metaphor far enough, suffice it to say that I don’t think it’s a question of whose contribution is more important, but rather that in flying, and in education, and in just about any large-scale enterprise, there is an ecology at work, and all the parts that make it up have their role to play. My analogy was specifically with a flight safety expert, and my point remains the same: you need such people working behind the scenes, asking difficult questions, saying things like “perhaps flight safety would be improved if pilots did X,” or examining data and seeing whether pilots’ perceptions are borne out in reality. I don’t see such people as grand-standers or just “people with opinions about flying,” but as an essential part of the ecology of the operation, and I’m very glad they exist.

    Moving on, I’m not sure my original post can be dismissed simply as “comments on comments.” Several of the key Sistema activists and writers outside Venezuela – Marcus, Tunstall, Govias, etc – were involved in the Toronyi-Lalic debate, and as Marcus noted at the time, this was the most serious challenge to El Sistema yet. He and several others took it seriously. My response included hard and relevant facts about the IDB’s evaluations, ones that were not known to any of those involved in the debate. It was not taking pot shots at things I felt like commenting on; it was a response to the precise issues that had come up in the debate so far, focusing on things that I know a bit more about, and leaving out areas that I don’t feel qualified to talk about (such as Big Noise). It was a response to a specific set of issues, not an essay entitled “Everything I Know About El Sistema,” which is why I didn’t address some of the other issues that you mention, such as the possible success or failure of the Sistema movement.

    At the heart of your response seems to be the idea that only those who identify with the project and compliment it publicly have the right to criticize it. This is like saying that only Republican voters can criticize Romney, or that every criticism has to be accompanied by something nice about him. Critiques should be taken on their merits, not on the affiliation of those who make them. So I think there is an important discussion to be had about, say, the role of classical music in El Sistema, and it doesn’t matter whether I am a classical or popular musician, or a Sistema supporter or critic – either this is an important issue, or it’s not, and either people have got their facts straight about what goes on in Venezuela, or they don’t. I’m afraid I disagree with your characterization of the role of a critic: I think that role is to elucidate, and perhaps to present little-known information that may alter the picture, rather than to be a booster for a particular cause.

    I find your paragraph on research persuasive, precisely because it is an unadorned reflection of the reality. This seems much healthier to me than continuing to cite the dodgy IDB figure, as happened in responses to Toronyi-Lalic, and to me it shows precisely the value of the kind of debate we’re having now. Something has been clarified, and publicly. I would never criticize Sistema spinoffs for failing to prove their effectiveness: they have not been going long enough, and as you say, it’s very hard to prove anyway. My criticism is reserved for unverifiable claims to the contrary.

    As I said before, I have never claimed that El Sistema doesn’t work; I’m much more interested in why people think it does. Human beings believe all kinds of things; some of them turn out to be great hunches that are subsequently proven right, others to be gross misapprehensions, others remain undetermined. I think it’s worth enquiring into where El Sistema fits on this continuum.

    Geoff

  7. Thank for this: it’s a really interesting article which does more than simply question the validity of some of El Sistema’s claims for its success. It offers between the lines a more general argument about the social and cultural work done by different kinds of music.

    I take your point that modern orchestras are by no means unproblematic institutions, and that getting people to join them is no route to ‘escape’ from whatever economic and material conditions they currently experience. But I question the assumption, lurking not far below the surface of long stretches of this article, that Western art music is somehow tainted by the misuse which – again, I agree – has been and can be made of it.

    You seem to be arguing that ‘El Sistema’s deep-seated belief in the superiority of classical music’ would somehow undermine it all on its own, even in the absence of other factors. I guess this is on moral rather than practical grounds, because what seems to be revealed is a cultural commitment not only to the superiority of the Other but specifically to the economically superior Other. But since the only thing which can transform any situation is something that comes from outside that situation, it follows that if Western classical music is outside people’s previous experience, then until proven otherwise, it potentially offers the chance to open new vistas for them, new possibilties for action. I’m sure you would no more argue that classical music is always and essentially an imperialist, elitist, anti-democratic tool of oppression than you would argue that highly commodified popular musical forms are always and essentially somehow subversive and liberating. I suppose my questions emerging from the post would therefore be:

    1. Is it impossible for Venezuela to find a way of using classical music for the kinds of transformative ends El Sistema is claiming to achieve? El Sistema might not do it, but are there not other ways (or, still within the El Sistema framework, newly imagined ways) of achieving it?

    2. Do you think other forms of music-making, which may lack the sense of communal effort of orchestral playing (however distorted those may be by the realities of power struggle within the orchestra), can offer a better transformative model? I’m particularly interested to know how they can resist the ideological pressures which, as infinitely more commodifiable products than classical music, popular musical forms are subject to. (Commodification of course plays into the economic system which creates the embedded economic disparities that are at the heart of all these questions.)

    3. Do you think that the desire of those in more fortunate economic, educational, and general cultural positions to extend possibilities to those less fortunate should be avoided? The standard postmodern position would be that we shouldn’t presume to speak from a position of authority – even if we secretly think we might have something valuable to say. But if the alternative is simply valorizing the existing cultural forms without offering an explanation of how those can be used to improve material conditions, it wouldn’t be progressive.

    As these questions might indicate, I don’t particularly want to limit this to the narrow question of the success or otherwise of this particular musical project, about which people hold strong and often relatively unexamined views which can overwhelm a discussion. I’m more interested in generalities, and in what seems to be a slightly too neat view of the possibilities of classical music – or else of my reading of your views on this!

  8. Thanks Paul for these stimulating points. My efforts have been devoted to making this kind of general discussion possible, rather than carrying that discussion forward myself. My concern at the start of this whole saga was with the way that Toronyi-Lalic’s initial points (provocations?) were swept aside by inaccurate counter-assertions rather than actually addressed. Still, perhaps I can attempt some sort of answer to your questions.

    It’s a shame that I gave the impression that Western art music is tainted – this was not my intention, and perhaps reflects my irritation at the way that in the Sistema sphere, there seems to be denial about the marginalization of popular music and a step backwards to the unquestioned assumption and naturalization of the superiority of classical music, rather than, say, a step forward to some kind of challenging post-multicultural, post-diversity stance. If someone wants to make the case for classical music, then great; but if it’s just a case of ignoring any case against it, then not so great.

    It may be useful to draw a distinction between Western classical music and Western classical music education, and also between different kinds of classical music (I am guilty of lumping a lot of this together for the sake of simplicity here). I would agree that classical music potentially offers the chance of opening up new vistas and possibilities, but would argue that the devil is in the detail: clearly, learning to play in a string quartet, a contemporary music ensemble, and a symphony orchestra would provide quite different kinds of experiences, and those differences could be multiplied by the kinds of pedagogies involved (reflective/repetitive, contextualized/decontextualized, self-directed/authoritarian, and so on). I would argue that someone whose entire experience of music-making consists of obeying commands at the back of the second violins in an orchestra is not experiencing the full range of transformative possibilities opened up by music.

    So I think that classical music does contain transformative possibilities, but those are easily curtailed by certain kinds of social dynamics that are all too common in classical music culture and education. Recognizing the problems is an essential step to overcoming them; simply declaring that the orchestra is best, on the basis of no evidence, will not do.

    Another key point for me is terribly simple: music-making can have positive and negative effects simultaneously. I enjoyed playing in a youth orchestra and would never want to deny someone else the possibility of doing that. But it may be that playing in an orchestra has good and bad sides, and that playing for two hours a week in an orchestra, as I did, actually provides a better education than playing for twenty hours a week, allowing an individual to experience orchestral music in a powerful way without being overwhelmed by the factory production-line aspect of being a rank-and-file orchestral musician.

    In terms of transformative models, I wonder whether chamber music and jazz wouldn’t be more effective. There are also other kinds of ensembles found in different musical traditions from around the world, and new ones being invented by enterprising musicians and teachers who get their students to make their own instruments as well as play them. In an ideal world, young musicians might be exposed to all these options and allowed to make up their own minds about their favourite kinds of experience, though this doesn’t solve all the problems; people may well enjoy ideologically problematic experiences. But at the very least I think there needs to be a lot more debate on this very question that you ask, rather than simply assuming that an orchestra promotes teamwork because, um, it involves lots of people.

    In terms of commodification, it’s worth raising the possibility that, thanks to the global fame of the Simón Bolívar Youth Orchestra and the comparative international ignorance of Venezuelan popular music, the disparity that you note may be much less marked than in other countries, or even inverted. The amount of money moving around El Sistema’s top orchestras, conductors, concerts, and recordings is impressive. It’s also worth noting – and I should have flagged this up – that I am generally using the word “popular” in the Latin American sense, which includes a lot of what in the UK we might call traditional music.

    Finally, I think that extending possibilities is one thing, and dictating “solutions” is another. There are many progressive projects in Latin America that involve empowering individuals and groups to pursue their own goals, and a widespread suspicion of the all-knowing state that drops down out of the sky and tells people what skills they should learn. These positions are as open to critique as any others, but I don’t think that ignoring them and perpetuating an older ideology of modernist developmentalism constitutes a critique.

    What is fundamental, though, is that there needs to be a lot more debate on all these issues. I don’t claim to have the answers, but there is a huge amount of discussion to be had about kinds of music, kinds of ensemble, pedagogy, and the pros and cons of different musical experiences, and a huge literature to be engaged with on all of these questions. The hero-worshipping of El Sistema and brushing aside of challenges to it that have come to the fore recently are indicative precisely of a worrying lack of engagement with such crucial questions, on the specious grounds that critique entails at best a sideshow and at worst a betrayal of “the work” and “the children.”

  9. After spending about $500 of my time studying this, I’m unable to prove, even to myself that it was worth it. I suppose I could spend another $500 to have someone research the question, so I could prove to my fans, mentors, students and critics that I was right. But I’m running out of time and money- my bank and wife will provide evidence if you’d like.

    Geoff, you certainly must have some metrics on your time invested here, or is it a bit early for the imperical evidence? When you’re ready to share proof that what you are doing has any value to anyone but you, let’s get back together and compare notes. If you would compare your results with some alternatives, that would be important data too. Anything other than better than nothing will suffice.

    • My attempt to say that not all things need to be measured fell short.

      Insisting human striving must stand the scrutiny of 3rd party testing in order to call itself noble, is fine as long as you test your own work by the same standard. Otherwise, as have most artist and scientists and authors have done for centuries, we do the work as best we can, and let the marketplace decide by it’s response.

      he Wizard of Oz insisted Dorothy and Company prove themselves worthy, but his motives were to destroy them for his own gain.

      Glenn Thomas 619-518-7847 Glenn@gcthomas.com http://Www.gcthomas.com

      Sent from my iPad

  10. Glenn:

    The nobility of the striving and the nature of the outcomes are two separate things. I am questioning the latter, not the former.

    My own work is coming and will come under intense scrutiny, and I welcome that. I work in a world in which critical scrutiny is the norm. Any time I speak in public about my work, I open myself to criticism. Anything that I wish to publish is scrutinized by two peer reviewers whose job is precisely to look for flaws in my arguments or material.

    I’m flattered by the comparison to the Wizard of Oz, that’s one for the scrapbook, but I’m not sure quite how my current activities could be seen as for my own gain. I would gain far more if I became a Sistema advocate and consultant.

  11. I’m learning about academia, as you must be painfully aware. I suppose my capitalist and business instincts aren’t of much use and that I must learn the idiosyncrasies of the community. Thanks for putting up with me while I adjust to a process that seems to me at best wasteful and at worst a giant scam by getting paid for questioning the obvious and blurring and reblurring perfectly reasonable assumptions for the sake of solving them for profit. In common sales training you must dig a hole, put the customer in it and then offer to take them out for a fee. I sense that strategy here.

    The cost of proof must yield a very high return to make it worthwhile, especially when compared to other uses. Help me understand the value proposition. What is a reasonable return these investments? I may become a fan of academia after all. In the meantime forgive me if I feel like I’ve walked into a marketplace not unlike the worst of Wall Street.

  12. Geoff,
    I notice in this post and your research post that you say we must evaluate the pedagogy. El Sistema has no set philosophy. In my opinion, this malleability is what makes it so successful because it can be as catered and custom as needed to fit the needs of that specific community and that’s what we’re trying to do in the first place. How that learning is done (pedagogy) is not one way nor should it be.

  13. Sara, I think you may be overstating the malleability and customization to local needs. Having every school organized around the conventional symphony orchestra and the same repertoire, and always organizing learning around preparation for orchestral concerts, doesn’t strike me as particularly flexible when I think about all the other kinds of music, ensemble, and pedagogy that exist in Venezuela and elsewhere.

  14. Hello Geoff
    I have one question: What do you propose then ?
    It is clear what El Sistema brings to youth.
    If you can engage in something worth doing then people will do it.
    So please let us know.
    I am not into any organization and not a part of El Sistema staff or related to any in it, just a simple supporter of a really good initiative.
    I am looking forward to read yours.

  15. Hi Claudio,

    If you want to read about a couple of alternatives, please look at my blog post “Constructing El Sistema” (link on sidebar). I think there are many possible alternatives, and they all have pros and cons – the important thing is to compare and think about them. I’m pushing for debate, not a single proposal.

    You say it is clear what El Sistema brings to youth. It’s actually not that clear, which is why I started this blog. I think that more clarity would be a good thing, and it won’t come unless there is a bit more questioning of assumptions.

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