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Jason and El Sistema

By Víctor Bolívar @victorabolivar

Everybody in this world is passionate about something – for some it is money, power, weapons, religion, drugs, alcohol or sex, but for others it is music. I am not a perfect guy who pretends to judge others´ preferences; what I would like is to tell you the astonishing story of a poor guy and his salvational relationship with something named El Sistema (The System).

El Sistema is a revolutionary Venezuelan educational program which transforms society through classical music – yes, you read the right words: through classical music. Most readers could be wondering how that is possible and some could be thinking that music cannot give people more than pleasure. However, I think music is a universal and amazing language which draws our best feelings and behaviours out – it is a powerful tool to transform people – and as the creator of this innovative and genuine program (Higgins, 2006) José Antonio Abreu says “poverty is not just the lack of a roof or bread, it is also a spiritual lack – a loneliness and lack of recognition. The vicious cycle of poverty can be broken when a child poor in material possessions acquires spiritual wealth through music”.

This educational program was created in 1975 in a small garage, and since that time it has been saving hundreds of thousands of children in poor and violent communities: Jason is one of them. He grew up in an extremely poor community named Petare, in the capital of Venezuela, which has more than a million people. I could describe this community with one word: anarchy. There are not enough public services like electricity, water, gas, education or security – in this place, even human rights are just empty words. Besides, there is no urban planning – houses are extremely crowded and constructed in a way that nobody could believe that there are humans inside. Politicians only remember this place during electoral campaigns.

Drugs, assassinations, kidnappings, robberies and assaults are part of Jason´s life. His two older brothers and his father were killed during different robberies – he is the last hope of his mother. He is seventeen years old and thanks to El Sistema he has been playing the violin for more than half of his life. However, he didn’t start to play the violin because he loved it – he started to play the violin because during the violin classes he could eat at least once per day. He thinks that El Sistema is his unconditional friend – it has been with him even during the worst moments of his life. He has been receiving violin classes eight hours per day, five days per week – for free – because El Sistema offers classical music lessons to young people regardless their income. This is an amazing issue – I know it´s not on the news as frequently as the “scandalous” life of Justin Bieber or the “fabulous” life of Donald Trump – but believe it or not this miraculous program is saving lives and it is happening now.

Three years ago, Jason was on his way to home when suddenly a bullet passed through his violin broke it in little pieces – he believes that the violin saved his life because it stopped the bullet – however, I am not as superstitious as him, what I believe is that the violin saved his life because it created an environment of opportunities where the lack of the most basic things is the rule.
The last time that I talked to Jason he told me that he was accepted at Guildhall School of Music in London which offered to him a bursary to study music. This was possible because he has toured with the Symphony Orchestra Simón Bolívar of Venezuela, playing the violin in major orchestral venues such as the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, Philharmonie de Paris, London´s Royal Festival Hall and Carnegie Hall in New York.

For Jason and for the other seven hundred thousand young people who are enrolled at El Sistema just in Venezuela and for the other more than one million who are enrolled at El Sistema around the world, this is more than a friendship which is based on opportunities, solidarity, support, hope, respectfulness, discipline and above all; the amazing classical music.

Higgins, Ch. (2006, November 24). Land of hope and glory. The Guardian.
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