(from Playing for Their Lives, Tunstall/Booth 2016, W.W. Norton)

Recommended Useful Resources

Note: Web addresses change and disappear, so we cannot guarantee that these addresses are all still active.

Key Moments

2015 Sistema Europe Youth Orchestra in Milan, Italy:

2015 Superar Sistema Bosnia: We want to sing together

2014 Superar Sistema Bosnia: Love People:

2013 National Children’s Orchestra of Venezuela (350 children age 8-14) playing Bernstein’s Mambo!, conducted by Sir Simon Rattle:

2013 White Hands Choir from Venezuela in Salzburg, Austria:

2013 Sistema Europe Youth Orchestra in Salzburg, Austria:

2013 Ensembles of Afghanistan National Institute of Music at the Kennedy Center:

2013 Interview with Gustavo Dudamel about founding of El Sistema Sweden

2010 Street Performance of the Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra at barrio in La Vega, Caracas:

2010 Gustavo Dudamel, newly appointed conductor of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, conducts an impromptu Caracas rehearsal of the National Children’s Orchestra of Venezuela:

2011 60 Minutes news segment:

2009 José Antonio Abreu TED Talk:é_abreu_on_kids_transformed_by_music?language=en

2008 60 Minutes news segment:

2007 The Simón Bolívar Youth Orchestra of Venezuela at London’s BBC Proms:


El Sistema Venezuela/Fundamusical:

Sistema Global:

El Sistema USA:

Sistema Europe:

Sistema Fellows Program:

League of American Orchestras: El Sistema:

Take a Stand:

Sistema Global: Rep + Resource:

YOLA Resource Library:


Crescendo: The Power of Music (2015), directed by Bernstein and Kling:

Five Years of In Harmony Liverpool (2014) – short documentary about the transformative effects of the El Sistema-inspired program in Liverpool, England, sponsored by the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra:

Side by Side: El Sistema Sweden (2013):

Beyond the Music: Soundscapes, El Sistema and the Proven Power of Music (by Joe Hamm): (2013)

Sistema Revolution (2012, Canada):

Dudamel: Let the Children Play (2011), directed by Alberto Arvelo

El Sistema (2008) (sometimes subtitled “Music to Change Life”), directed by Smazcny and Stodtmeier:

The Promise of Music (2007):

Tocar y Luchar (2006), directed by Alberto Arvelo:


Borzacchini, Chefi. Venezuela: The Miracle of Music (Caracas: Fundación Bancaribe, 2010).

Hernández-Estrada, José Luis. Aesthetics of Generosity: El Sistema, Music Education, and Social Change, 2012.

Kaufmann, Michael, and Stefan Piendl. Das Wunder von Caracas (in German) (Irisiana, Munich, 2011.

Tunstall, Tricia. Changing Lives: Gustavo Dudamel, El Sistema, and the Transformative Power
of Music (New York: W. W. Norton, 2012; paperback, 2013).

Research Currently Available on Line

“A National Collaborative Evaluation of Sistema-inspired Music Education,” WolfBrown/Longy School (2015–16, ongoing):

“Exploring the Academic and Psychosocial Impact of El Sistema–Inspired Music Programs Within Two Low Socio-Economic Schools” (about Pizzicato Effect program, Melbourne): (published online September 1, 2015)

Evaluating Sistema Scotland: Initial Findings Report (2015):
also see: Evaluation of Big Noise, Sistema Scotland (2011):

Sistema Global Literature Review, Andrea Creech and Patricia Gonzalez-Moreno, Lisa Lorenzino, Grace Waitman (2013):

“A National Sistema Network in Canada: Feasibility Study and Strategic Plan,” Inga Petri (2013):

“Globalizing El Sistema,” Lauren Silberman, M.A. thesis, University of Oregon (2013):

“Between Social Harmony and Political Dissonance: The Institutional and Policy-Based Intricacies of the Venezuelan System of Children and Youth Orchestras,” Daniel Mora- Brito, M.A. thesis, University of Texas, Austin (2011):

“Music to My Ears: The (Many) Socio-Economic Benefits of Music Training Programs,” José Cuesta (Washington D.C.: InterAmerican Development Bank 2008):

“Orchestrating ‘An Affluence of Spirit’: Addressing Self-Esteem in Impoverished Venezuelan Children Through Music Education,” Jennifer Diana Mei-lyn Chang (B.A. thesis, Harvard University, 2007):

“A Model for Community Participation in the Performing Arts: Social Action Through Music and the Internationalization of the Venezuela Orchestra System,” Alvaro Rodas, M.A. thesis, Columbia University (2006):


The Ensemble (covering the U.S. and Canada): contact or
The World Ensemble (in English and Spanish): contact or


Sistema Fellows:

Marshall Marcus:

Jonathan Govias:

Defining an El Sistema-Inspired Program

As we gathered contact information from all programs around the world for the first time to launch the newsletter The World Ensemble, we had to address the issue of organizations that are not really Sistema-inspired using the name to advance their work. The issue is delicate because El Sistema is not a club that explicitly includes and excludes members according to established criteria, and no one in this movement dedicated to inclusivity wants to be in the business of excluding well-intentioned colleagues. However, when clearly non-Sistema-like programs use the name, it weakens the identity and potency of the movement. We have tried to walk the fine line of determining which programs’ news The World Ensemble will publish (although happily distributing it to everyone) by clarifying which would be considered “El Sistema” programs and which would be considered friends and colleagues. Perhaps these guidelines might be useful to readers as well.

What is an El Sistema-inspired program? What isn’t?

Programs that are El Sistema–inspired (ES-i) use these six core principles and practices to guide their current programs and continuing development. A program that uses all these principles and practices, or that is growing into implementation of them, is an El Sistema–inspired program.

Social Goals

The primary goal of ES-i programs is the social development of young people and their communities. The musical processes and accomplishments are the main means of achieving these social goals, but they are the means, not the end. ES-i programs primarily determine their success by looking at the social outcomes of their students.


ES-i programs do not audition students for selection based on ability. They predominantly serve students without ready access to intensive music instruction, and all who want to attend the program are welcome, without cost as a barrier to participation.

Learning in Ensemble

The primary vehicle for musical learning in ES-i programs is the ensemble, as soon as and as often as possible. While one-on-one instruction is usually included, it is secondary in priority because ES-i programs rely on the social development that comes with group learning.


While musical learning happens in many ways, social development through music requires a commitment of intensive, rigorous, consistent engagement over multiple years. ES-i programs are not content with a few hours of study per week for a year or two, but require, or are moving toward requiring, a significant commitment of hours each week over multiple years.

Mentoring and Peer Learning

Teachers and more experienced students act as mentors to students in ES-i programs, and programs nurture and rely on peer-to-peer instruction.

Learning Environment

ES-i programs strive to create a safe, positive, joyful, hardworking, and high-aspiring home base for all students. Faculty and program leaders continually invest themselves in finding additional ways to make the environment more motivating and positive. ES-i programs have active connections to families and community and always seek their greater involvement. Via performance and partnerships, student experiences extend to new settings within and outside their neighborhoods, expanding their sense of place, belonging, and opportunity.

Whatever its stated values, a program that does not actually run according to these six principles and practices may admire El Sistema, and may be a valuable friend and colleague to the El Sistema movement, but it is not an El Sistema–inspired program.

This distinction is not intended to exclude colleagues, but rather to help the El Sistema–inspired movement grow by clarifying its identity and its central practices. ES-i programs welcome friendships and partnerships with programs that share their aspirations; we have much to learn from them, and hope that we have much to share.

Articles (mostly by authors Tricia Tunstall and Eric Booth)

Reframing El Sistema-Inspired Work: Getting Better at What We Do by Getting Clearer About What We Are Doing, by Eric Booth, February 2014

“Five Encounters with El Sistema International: An Informal Essay,” by Tricia Tunstall and Eric Booth, November 2013

“El Sistema: A Perspective for North American Music Educators,” by Tricia Tunstall, in Music Educators Journal, September 2013

“Salzburg Sistema,” by Tricia Tunstall, in Classical Music Magazine, September 2013

“The Soul is Whole,” Salzburg Festival Programme, by Tricia Tunstall, August 2013

“Everything to Learn,” Salzburg Festival Programme, by Tricia Tunstall, August 2013

“The Generous Laboratory: El Sistema-inpspired Programs in the Music Education Ecosystem,” by Eric Booth, June 2013.

“Can El Sistema Thrive in the U.S. and Beyond?” in Musical America, by Tricia Tunstall, December 2012

“Eyes on the Right Prize: Learning Motivation in El Sistema-inspired Programs,” by Eric Booth, December 2012

“Defending El Sistema,” by Tricia Tunstall, in Classical Music Magazine, July 2012

“Ten Core Principles of El Sistema” by Tricia Tunstall

The Eye Begins to See: Reflections Upon a Third Visit to El Sistema, by Eric Booth

“Batuta: El Sistema in Colombia,” by Tricia Tunstall and Eric Booth, July 2011

“The Baltimore Seminario, a first for the U.S. El Sistema Movement,” by Tricia Tunstall and Eric Booth, May 2011

“Open Secrets,” by Eric Booth, May 2010

“Music and Morality: The Music Educator’s Perspective,” by Tricia Tunstall, presented at the University of London Symposium on Music and Morality, June, 2009