Experience Making a Difference

Experience Making a Difference

Changing Lives: The remarkable story of “El Sistema”

by | Feb 24, 2012

It’s February and it’s snowing here in Walton, NY, a small town in the foothills of the Catskills.  Winter is supposed to be a quiet time, a time to read and reflect, but my mind is anything but quiet.  It is swirling with ideas and possibilities.  It all started when I asked my wife to bring me a couple of books from her trip to the local library.  I wanted a mystery and maybe another book, something that she thought I’d enjoy.  Yes, I got the mystery, but it‘s still sitting unread on our dining room table. It’s the other book I can’t put down, Changing Lives: Gustavo Dudamel, El Sistema, and the Transformative Power of Music by Tricia Tunstall.  This is the remarkable story of “El Sistema” and its visionary founder Jose Antonio Abreu.  It’s the story of over 300,000 children, mostly the poor and the marginalized, from the barrios of Venezuela who learn to play an instrument, take part in an orchestra, and play classical music.  But it is much more than a musical education the children get.  It’s an experience of community, of expanded family, of faith in themselves and a call to civic responsibility.  It sounds like a fairy tale or a Hollywood feel-good movie.  But it isn’t.  It’s a true story.

Jesuits historically have seen themselves as having both a cultural and religious mission.  Jesuits are renowned for engaging in supposedly secular activities finding God in all things.  The border between the secular and profane is porous.  The whole universe is infused with God grace.  The Jesuits were founded in the Renaissance period and were profoundly formed by the humanism of that time.

When I read about “El Sistema” and the vision and accomplishments of Jose Antonio Abreu, I thought, here indeed is Ignatian humanism alive and thriving.  In point of fact, this intuition was confirmed when I read later that Abreu “finds a primary source of spiritual strength in his Jesuit Catholic faith.” (p. 91,Tunstall)

Jose Antonio Abreu has had many awards.  One of these was from “TED Talks” noted below. Listen to his short talk.  If he didn’t study Cicero with the Jesuits, I’d be surprised!  His passion for using his gifts to meet the needs of the world is contagious.  I hope you read about “El Sistema” and listen to his talk.  I guarantee it will knock your socks off.

See:  Jose Abreu on kids transformed by music | Video on TED.com at www.ted.com/talks/jose_abreu_on_kids_transformed_by_music.html