Who started El Sistema?
The founder of El Sistema, and still its leader, is the Venezuelan musician and economist José Antonio Abreu, a true visionary of our time. He has a clear and powerful vision of music’s life-transformative potential for needy children, and his goal is to extend this opportunity to every Venezuelan child.
How many children are involved in El Sistema?
In Venezuela right now, there are over 500,000 children in El Sistema, learning music and playing together in ensembles. There are many thousands more in other Latin American countries. In the U.S. we now have about 8,000 – 10,000 children in El Sistema-inspired programs – a good start, and the El Sistema movement is spreading rapidly across the country.
Is El Sistema in other parts of the world?
Maestro Abreu’s idea took root in a number of Latin American countries over the last several decades, including Mexico, Colombia, Brazil, and Chile.  In recent years it has spread rapidly  across the world, and there are now Sistema-inspired programs in over sixty countries, on every continent except Antarctica.
How can playing music together really keep poor kids away from drugs and gang violence?
El Sistema works because it immerses children in an alternative world, every day for several hours – a world where they have a deep sense of belonging to a community where they are needed and valued. The same longing to belong which can propel young people toward gangs is much more deeply satisfied in the community of an orchestra.
Do children audition to get into El Sistema? Do they have to pay?
No, there are no auditions and the program is free or for a nominal fee. It’s for any child who wants to join.
If El Sistema takes anyone and everyone, regardless of talent, how does it happen that their top orchestras are as good as many conservatory and professional orchestras?
Even though El Sistema is open and accessible to everyone, musical excellence is a top priority at every level; standards are set very high, and children are expected to work very hard to achieve them. This hard work toward high aspiration is a key element of El Sistema: it not only produces great music but also creates the opportunity for each child to experience self-discipline, tenacity, and mastery.
Is El Sistema a program initiated by the late Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez?
No, El Sistema began thirty-seven years ago. José Antonio Abreu has been able to win government support through a succession of seven different regimes, from far left to far right. The program is not about politics; it is about the wellbeing of children and youth.


The Ensemble is a free online monthly newsletter with feature articles and news items about the El Sistema movement, edited by Tricia Tunstall and published by Eric Booth. For a free subscription to The Ensemble newsletter, please email theensemblenl@gmail.com.

Archived copies of the Ensemble newsletters are available by clicking on the links below.

November 2011
Inaugural Issue; Teaching El Sistema Teaching
December 2011
Cultivating Future Leaders and Sites; Knowing the Mission
January 2012
Abreu Fellows First National Survey; Inter-American Sistema
February 2012
The Take-A-Stand Symposium; One-Goal Thinking
March 2012
The First West Coast Seminario
Special Issue 2012
Classical Music and Other Genres in El Sistema
April 2012
New El Sistema-Inspired MAT Program; Pedagogy, Venezuela-Style
May 2012
Sistema USA at the Crossroads; Thinking Big
June 2012
Needs Assessment Data and Meaning
July 2012
Perspectives on Program Expansion; Mind the Gap
August 2012
World-Wide Sistema; El Sistema Japan
September 2012
Getting Rep, Resources and Us Together
October 2012
"Behavior Management"
November 2012
Chorus in El Sistema; El Sistema: For Poor Kids Only?
December 2012
Growth in the National Movement; Responding to Critics
January 2013
Philadelphia Symposium; Performance and Education
February 2013
NYC Seminario; Evolving Teaching Practices
March 2013
Composition; Group Intrinsic Motivation
April 2013
Sistema in Canada; Message from Barquisimeto
May 2013
El Sistema Goes to School
June 2013
Student Stories; The Issue of Genre
July 2013
Volunteers in Our Programs; Teaching the Skills of Music Listening
August 2013
When Professional Orchestras Sponsor Núcleos
September 2013
Expanding Sistem-Inspired Programs
October 2013
Activating the U.S. Movement
November 2013
Sistema Summers; Sistema Japan
December 2013
Supporting Our Teachers
January 2014
Musical Arrangements for Sistema Programs
February 2014
Refreshing Pan-National Wisdom; Creating Local Alliances
March 2014
Take A Stand Symposium Highlights
April 2014
Evaluating "Sistematically"; Sistema Mexico
May 2014
Pre-Orchestra programs; Conversation with Arturo Márquez; Sistema Arrangements for Special Occasions
June 2014
Visionary Boldness in VZ Sistema; Smale-Scale Steps and Sustainability in U.S. Sistema
July 2014
Addressing Funder Priorities, The Many Languages of Sistema Song, Maslow Turned Upside Down
August 2014
Learning from Sistemas Scotland and England; Competition in El Sistema
September 2014
Sistema Learning in Non-Music Activities; Teaching Very Young Children; The Aesthetic Dimension of El Sistema
October 2014
Dalcroze, Suzuki, The Many Pedagogies of El Sistema
November 2014
International Sistema Teachers Conference, Spirit of Venezuelan Sistema
December 2014
Meanings of Social Inclusion; Learning In and From Brazil
January 2015
Sistema Programs' Uses of Chamber Music and Bucket Band; Response to Baker Book
February 2015
Sustainable Growth; Sistema Census; El Sistema 40th anniversary
March 2015
Brain Benefits of Music Learning; In School and In Sistema; 40th Anniversary Big Concert
April 2015
News from Sistema Canada; Soundpainting; Group Creativity
May 2015
Elkhart County Sistema Coalition; Community Sistema Ensembles
June 2015
Graduating Sistema Students; WolfBrown research; Corporate Social Responsibility in the Philippines
July 2015
"Dear Orchestra," From a Sistema Student; Inclusion Sistema Sweden Style
August 2015
Public Funding for Sistema Programs; Collaborative Composition; Teaching Artistry and El Sistema
September 2015
Getting the Right Instruments; High Ambition in Sistema Programs
October 2015
Summer Camps; Seminarios; Male Role Models in Sistema Programs
November 2015
Take A Stand Initiative For National Sistema Youth Orchestra
December 2015
Two Programs With Distinctive Features; Placing Our Chips On Beauty
January 2016
Venezuelan Visitor as Catalyst; Community Music; Beyond Access
February 2016
Indigenous Students in Canadian Programs; Ethnic Music Traditions; Where's the Rigor?
March 2016
The Roots of Art for Social Change; YOLA at the Superbowl; The Longy MAT
April 2016
Neuroscience and Music Learning; Behind the Scenes at the Superbowl