Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Honors Thesis



First Advisor

Penny Dimmick


"Founded in 1975 by José Antonio Abreu in Venezuela, El Sistema is a music education program that gives underprivileged children the opportunity to learn to play a string instrument in a youth orchestra setting. The mission of the program is to promote long-term social change through the character development that accompanies instrumental music education. El Sistema has since grown to include over one million students in Venezuela, and its mission has inspired educators in the United States to create similar programs. These El Sistema-inspired programs serve students from low socioeconomic backgrounds, aiming to provide students with hope and teach lifelong skills like punctuality, responsibility, and resilience.

Although these programs use the name “El Sistema” in their descriptions, they function differently than the original program in Venezuela. A social outreach program like El Sistema cannot be transplanted from one society to another and look identical, because the program is meant to serve its society in response to cultural context. As such, a change in location necessitates a change in function. For this reason, El Sistema-inspired programs adapt the original mission and processes of El Sistema from its Venezuelan context in order to fit the community they are serving.

In this thesis, I discuss the mission of El Sistema along with the way this mission has been interpreted by El Sistema-inspired programs in the United States. Through observations and interviews at one such school, The People’s Music School location in the Albany Park neighborhood of Chicago, Illinois, I place this discussion in the context. These findings suggest that a program meant to inspire social change will not remain exactly the same if taken out of its original societal and cultural context. Instead, the program evolves to meet the needs of the community it serves."--Provided by author.

Included in

Music Commons