‘Producing Musicians like Sausages’: New Perspectives on the History and Historiography of Venezuela’s El Sistema

My article with Ana Lucía Frega, “‘Producing musicians like sausages’: new perspectives on the history and historiography of Venezuela’s El Sistema,” has just been published online in the peer-reviewed academic journal Music Education Research. Those with institutional access to this journal can read the article here. If you do not have access to this journal, you may contact me privately for a copy.

The article’s abstract is as follows:

A powerful and eulogistic narrative has evolved around the Venezuelan National System of Youth and Children’s Orchestras, better known as El Sistema. Recently, however, critical perspectives have begun to emerge from the academic sphere. Nevertheless, researchers have faced an acute shortage of documentary resources relating to the programme’s history. The reappearance of a collection of documents from 1996 to 97 thus represents an important development. The sources, which include four external evaluations, relate to El Sistema’s efforts to secure funding from the Inter-American Development Bank. In this article, these documents are examined in chronological order and then analysed in comparative perspective. They shed light on both the history of El Sistema and polarised present-day debates about this famous organisation, corroborating recent academic studies and further questioning the dominant institutional and advocacy narrative about a socially transformative programme aimed primarily at the poor. 

The article concludes with a call for the international Sistema sphere to respond to the growing evidence of problems and injustices in El Sistema, and for researchers and professional bodies to take the lead.