Founded in 1975 by economist and musician José Antonio Abreu, El Sistema began with a small group of young aspiring musicians and has now grown into a network of youth orchestras and instrumental training programs serving hundreds of thousands of Venezuela’s most disadvantaged children.
The El Sistema philosophy envisions music as an agent of social change. It promotes the idea that all children have a right to an excellent music education, and that through an approach prioritizing the overall health and well being of each child, immersive musical study and experience greatly enhance individuals' personal and social development.
As stated on the Fundación Musical Simón Bolivar website:
'El Sistema’s approach to music education emphasizes intensive ensemble participation from the earliest stages, group learning, peer teaching and a commitment to keeping the joy and fun of musical learning and music making ever-present. Sometimes referred to as “passion first/refinement second,” the El Sistema methodology is in marked contrast to much of music education training outside of Latin America.'
Though El Sistema's primary goal is social inclusion and transformation, its highly effective musical training system has produced some of the world's finest musicians. These include Gustavo Dudamel, the current music director of the Los Angelos Philharmonic, and Edicson Ruiz who at age 17 became the youngest member of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra.