#elsistema in Trenton

by Carol Burden, Executive Director, Trenton Music Makers

Those who were part of last year’s Princeton University Concerts residency events with Gustavo Dudamel will treasure those memories. Not only was the music exquisite, but Mo. Dudamel’s commitment to young people, and to the powerful role that music plays in uniting and uplifting a community, were palpable.

“El Sistema,” in the wake of Gustavo Dudamel’s residency, is now a phrase that the Greater Princeton community understands well. This is the deeply respected system of youth orchestras, bands, and choirs that have proliferated in Venezuela since their founding in the 1970s by visionary musician and humanitarian, Jose Antonio Abreu. And especially since the late Mo. Abreu’s receiving the 2009 TED Prize, and seeded development of El Sistema-inspired programs in the United States, they are thriving here in the North as well. In El Sistema, the intensive, ambitious pursuit of musical excellence is a platform for social development. And more so than preparing to compete for a conservatory spot, children in Sistema-inspired programs come to understand the orchestra as a “nucleo”: a safe space for hard-working fun, where all can reach unreasonably high, together.

Trenton Music Makers, the local Sistema-inspired program, provides intensive string instruction, daily orchestra rehearsal, and a 6-8 hour per week commitment from its students and teaching artists. Thanks to a partnership with the Capital Area YMCA, its students are picked up from school and gather at the historic Union Baptist Church, where they begin the program day with a hot meal together. Thanks to a generous community of instrument donors, and especially Russo Music and JE Banks String Instruments, every student grade 2-12 receives a high-quality instrument. Its teaching artists are a diverse team of master string teachers, freelance musicians, young and dedicated college graduates, and excellent classroom music teachers.

Sistema-inspired programs throughout the world have documented outcomes related to school attendance, improved neurological processing, social-emotional learning, executive function, and graduation rates. Trenton Music Makers’ early results give reason to expect very big things.


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