El Sistema, organized in 1975 by Jose Antonio Abreu, an economist, was started as an orchestra with 11 poor children in Caracas, the capital city of Venezuela. Now, it has grown up to become a large-scale organization with 260,000 people in about 190 centers in Venezuela. The excellence of this program has been recognized in whole world since it turned out that many of great musicians such as Gustavo Adolfo Dudamel Ramírez, the permanent conductor of LA Philharmonic, and Edicson Ruiz, Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra’s double bass player were from this orchestra.
Among all the positive outcomes, the best one was that it acknowledged poor children that they have responsibility as a society member, and gave them hope and dream about their future, preventing crime by teaching music to those children exposed in danger such as drug, violence, and weapons. With this result, El Sistema is now settled as a global musical education system for preschoolers and teenagers.
Even in Korea, more and more people are interested in the system of El Sistema. There is a band, which dreams of becoming Korean “El Sistema”. Sejong Youth Harmony Orchestra. It consists of 100% young students. They haven’t even touched the musical instruments before entering this orchestra, but now each of them plays very well. What changed them like this? Let’s have a look.
Hopeful Harmony Created by Small Hands
‘Sejong Youth Harmony Orchestra’ was made to provide opportunities to make the hopes and dreams come true for the neglected class of children and teenagers by giving them musical education and helping them find their talent. By running the show as one of the activities of “Hope-Sharing” project in Sejong Center for the Performing Arts, this orchestra is receiving attention as a model of Korean “El Sistema”.
This orchestra chose its members among students who are learning instruments at Seoul Metropolitan Area Children’s Center, community centers, study rooms and many other places by the open call auditions or the recommendations from these groups. On September 10th, 2010, the orchestra had the welcoming ceremony and stepped their first feet. The targets are the children who are interested in music, and aged between 4th and 8th grade.
<’Sejong Youth Harmony Orchestra’, dreaming of Korean “El Sistema”>
These children receive lessons from the members of Eurasian Philharmonic or SeoulPhil every Wednesday. Even though it was hard to gather young children from elementary to middle school at the first time, now it is hard to find the absence. As a first step, they have opportunities to learn the instruments they are interested in. However, if they lose interest in the instruments and music, teachers change the instruments to keep their interests alive. Also, the members of ‘Sejong Naneum Ensemble’ chose to become mentors for these children and volunteer to teach them.
‘Sejong Youth Harmony Orchestra’ had their first concert as a guest appearance at the concert of ‘Sejong Naneum Ensemble’ on December 25th, 2010. Then, they had a successful inauguration concert with ‘Rafael Chorus’, the blind choir at Sejong Chamber Hall on May 7th. Starting from this concert, ‘Sejong Youth Harmony Orchestra’ is planning to have variety of activities to share culture and arts at Free Musical Concerts for the citizens or those in neglected class like themselves.
Dream and Hope to Isolated Children
‘Sejong Youth Harmony Orchestra’ is screaming of joy these days due to a lot of help from people interested in this project. Even though this orchestra has started for less than a year, and even they didn’t learn music professionally, these students with passion and hope have reliable supporters. Domestic musical instrument companies decided to provide instruments used in the orchestra for free, and the maintenance management of these instruments are held by Sejong Center for the Performing Arts. Additionally, except for four coaches who majored in music and teach the children, all people are volunteers.
There was a pleasant guest last January. Mark Churchill, the director of USA El Sistema, and Nicholas Real, a flute player grown thanks to the program of “El Sistema”, visited these children and shared their experiences and hope.
After the inauguration concert, H group decided to support ‘Sejong Youth Harmony Orchestra’ and made it public that they had an informal cooperation Cultural Divide at Sejong Arts Academy in Sejong Center for the Performing Arts. As a support, H group donated personal instruments to each member of “Sejong Youth Harmony Orchestra” and provided a uniform for each member in the orchestra. Additionally, the group is planning to support these children with management of the program by providing volunteers for one-to-one music lesson for each orchestra member.
When people asked about how the orchestra will be managed, Sejong Center for the Performing Arts addressed that “To open the door wide for children in neglected class, we are planning to replace all members every two years. Also, we are not planning to receive any participation fee”. Even though they are not “professional”, the dreams of these passionate children, wanting to become the best musician in the world in the future are growing as time goes by.
To Settle the System of ‘Korean El Sistema’
Ministry of culture and Korea culture and Arts Education Agency are pushing ahead with an orchestra program starting from 8 parts of South Korea with the name of “Dream Orchestra”. Cheong Myeong-Hoon, the conductor, Cheong Myeong-Hwa, the cellist, Chang Han-Na, the cellist and conductor, Paek Joo-Young, the violinist and more musicians are taking part in this program and planning to be the mentors for the children. El Sistema is receiving attention in Korean educational world as an aid project to reduce the cultural gap of multicultural families and low-income children.
However, the most important part of this project is durability. Since this project started, it gained a lot of attention and supports. However, if the support decreases as time goes by, it means that the project might come to an end. The company official who made it official to support ‘Sejong Youth Orchestra’ said at the interview that it is true that the support for the culturally underprivileged was limited to providing the opportunity to see the concert. And the official showed the reason why the company decided to support the project by referring to the necessity of the support for the culturally underprivileged.
Also, the truth that in the reality where a serious concern of sustainable culture sharing and the active participation of the beneficiaries is necessary, ‘Sejong Youth harmony Orchestra’ can be a solution, means that it includes a concern regarding the durability and the outcome of the program of Korean El Sistema. Even though there is a bright future of El Sistema by continuous activities, it seems like it has a long way to go to successfully settle this program with children.
If we consider the time and effort given to make this system settle down at Venezuela, this kind of movement should not be considered as a short-term project, but has to be able to provide an environment for low-income children and multi-cultural families to grow up through music. We sincerely hope that through Korean “El Sistema” program like ‘Sejong Youth Harmony Orchestra’, those children who have a stereotype that music costs a lot of money, can have a chance to enjoy the music and find the possibility and their talents.