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Critic's Notebook: El Sistema for all, U.S. kids too

Venezuela's music education system was on glorious display during the L.A. Philharmonic's visit. Here's what the U.S. could learn.

February 26, 2012|By Mark Swed, Los Angeles Times Music Critic

Dudamel's international career ultimately is giving the Sistema phenomenon more and more prominence, and that, in turn, is inspiring more and more places to create their own versions of El Sistema. Méndez says that FundaMusical is indeed adaptable. The learning methods come from many traditions, including the Suzuki method and one devised by German composer Carl Orff, and he believes that El Sistema is flexible enough that it can be tailored to individual cultures. The L.A. Philharmonic currently has active youth orchestra programs directly inspired by El Sistema. The New England Conservatory began a training program for Sistema teachers but has recently pulled back. Carnegie Hall next fall will host Dudamel and the Bolívars, with much attention paid to Sistema.

Méndez admits that government support for any El Sistema program in the U.S. would of course be a pipe dream, but he says that what works with the government in Venezuela might well work with private funding and foundations elsewhere. The idea is that everyone can make music. The how is up to us, but not the why. We must pick and choose from El Sistema to find what works for us. But the fact is that the Venezuelans' education system is a triumph and ours is broken. We desperately need all the help we can get.

mark.swed@latimes.com

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