Venezuela’s El Sistema, the revolutionary music education program for children from low-income families, is the subject of a new book by U.S. author Tricia Tunstall entitled Changing Lives: Gustavo Dudamel, El Sistema, and the Transformative Power of Music.
According to an article by the Los Angeles Times, the book, released last week by W. W. Norton, “weaves together several interrelated stories. It chronicles the origins and growth of Venezuela’s acclaimed El Sistema national music education program (which has trained about 400,000 children, many among Venezuela’s poorest), profiles its charismatic founder-leader, José Antonio Abreu, and analyzes the program’s growing international influence.”
A three-day symposium on El Sistema took place in L.A. this week. The event, called Take a Stand, involved hundreds of delegates from over 10 countries as well as young people from the U.S., explored in detail the methodology and influence of El Sistema. This is just one of many activities demonstrating the interest that the program has generated abroad.
As the article states, Tunstall devotes a large section of her book to the story of 31-year-old Venezuelan conductor Gustavo Dudamel. He is El Sistema’s most famous graduate and a walking example of how exposure to classical music at an early age can expand or even radically alter a person’s life possibilities and help them motivate others in their communities.
“Changing Lives is the first book to present the entire tale together in one volume. The L.A. Times quotes a response by LA Phil President Deborah Borda, who says the story is “related so eloquently” by Tunstall.
The author “wanted to tell a compelling tale of how El Sistema, started on a shoestring budget in 1975, overcame huge obstacles to achieve its present stature as a world leader in arts education.”
Tunstall told the Los Angeles Times that she is “innately” aware of the validity of El Sistema’s educational and artistic principles, but said “the Sistema puts it forward in a community oriented way, which is I feel a really important and new message.”
“I would like to get that message out as widely as possible, not only to music educators but also to all educators and to people who are looking for new and effective ways to address the cycles of hopelessness and despair that are so endemic to poverty,” she told the newspaper.
Tunstall is is a writer, teacher and musician who has taught at Drew University and Bergen College. She is also the author of Note By Note: A Celebration of the Piano Lesson. Tunstall is pursuing a doctoral degree in Music Education at Boston University. She currently lives in the New York area, where she maintains an active piano studio.
Press Office – Venezuelan Embassy to the U.S. / February 3, 2012