Who Is El Sistema Pittsburgh?

El Sistema Pittsburgh is a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt nonprofit in the state of Pennsylvania founded by Venezuelan conductor Ronald Siso. El Sistema Pittsburgh, abbreviated “ESPGH,” is a brand-new after-school program, using classical music education as a vehicle for social change among underserved youths. Established in 2013, ESPGH is organized around the 40 year-old philosophical model of El Sistema in Venezuela that fosters a localized approach to music education. This has been a proven educational platform that immerses students in classical music education, and in part allows the for the empowerment and unification of underserved and disadvantaged communities.

El Sistema Pittsburgh has successfully developed a diverse, qualified, and competent leadership committee focused on ensuring artistic and musical education. In part, a highly unique curriculum has been developed to meet the distinct needs of community residents while alleviating the current budget void that has transversely impacted public schools’ art and music programs.

The design of the El Sistema Pittsburgh program proposes that effective teachers support the development of the whole child. Such teachers are able to help their students to improve artistically and play a key role in keeping students engaged in the program’s activities. El Sistema Pittsburgh supports a mentality that excellent teachers model everything they wish their students to become, including being an artist, teacher, learner, experimenter, and socially responsible adult.

Pittsburgh is the perfect city for an El Sistema initiative, since it is a conglomeration of dozens of unique neighborhoods. ESPGH values the singularity of these individual communities, as well as the opportunities presented in bringing them together to celebrate music (e.g., community concerts). As we begin our journey through partnership with the Barack Obama Academy of International Studies, we aim to offer programs in multiple communities throughout the greater Pittsburgh area. Community values play a key role in the function of each núcleo (or local music program site), which result in unique program decisions at different sites. Community pride will be encouraged, as well as partnerships between and among the núcleos, families, and students.

Mission

El Sistema Pittsburgh provides Pittsburgh’s youth with accessible and intensive classical music instruction. Utilizing music as a vehicle for positive change, ESPGH promotes the development of music, cognitive and social skills, self-esteem, and community pride in youth.

Vision for the Future

Over time, El Sistema Pittsburgh will create a network of El Sistema-inspired núcleos, or community locations, throughout the city and the region. Each will have a unique, community-based approach to realizing core values at the heart of our mission. Every child in ESPGH will be treated as a “key player.” The orchestra will grow as a tight-knit community devoted to cultivating responsible citizens within and beyond the orchestra.

 

El Sistema-Inspired Core Values

-Music education as social change

“From the minute a child is taught to play an instrument, he’s no longer poor. He is a child in progress…who will become a citizen.”

– Dr. Jose Antonio Abreu, founder of Venezuela’s El Sistema

The core of all El Sistema-inspired programs is that music can be used as a tool to uplift a child into a positive environment by way of educational opportunity. By providing in-depth music education to communities in need, we help to fill the void unable to be met by the educational system. It is our belief, as well of that of the El Sistema movement, that a music education that is both immersive and rigorous can help lead children to success.

-Accessibility

Learning an instrument is an expensive endeavor. Instruments and their accessories, sheet music, private lessons, and youth orchestra tuition fees can cost a family a fortune. ESPGH (and other El Sistema-inspired programs) covers these costs in various ways to those in need, making accessible the world of music to every child willing to make the commitment.

-High standards of musical excellence

Living up to high standards of musical excellence requires vigorous attention to detail, intense engagement, and daily commitment. By holding musicianship to the highest standard, El Sistema-inspired programs encourage students to become responsible and motivated to reach these musical goals. ESPGH believes in these standards, and educates students to meet them through intense classical music education.

-Community

Each musician in an ensemble must learn to work within the orchestral unit while maintaining artistic individualism. ESPGH ensembles also engage the outside community as frequently as possible. A sense of community pride is fostered both within the ensemble and within the community to get students excited about interacting positively and frequently with peers, teachers, and neighbors.

 

El Sistema inspired Strategies

-Intensity and Immersion

El Sistema-inspired programs require a very high level of intensity and frequency of musical study. The goal is that students in the program will be so wholly involved in their musical studies physically, mentally, and emotionally, that they will develop over-time a kind of immunity or positive distraction to any negative circumstances that may be present in their lives. This is commonly accomplished by requiring daily attendance to ensemble rehearsals for several hours a day.

-Peer Learning

A common mantra of El Sistema-inspired programs is: “A student who knows five notes can teach a student who knows only two notes.” By encouraging students to work and learn together, they will develop a sense of collaborative responsibility towards their peers, their ensemble, and themselves.

-Frequent Performance

For the students, public performances serve as a tangible goal to work towards and a motivation for daily practice and rehearsal attendance. They also provide a source of palpable pride for the students, their families, and the larger community. By performing often and in many different venues, students are exposed to the concentration required in performance and may avoid developing a habit of performance anxiety.