SISTEMA EUROPE: Membership & Values

The 2 Documents below describe the current Sistema Europe



Anyone may use this document as long as they attribute its origin to Sistema Europe and link to  

Version as at 30 April 2016 by Marshall Marcus

A. Membership of the Sistema Europe network:

Sistema Europe invites all European Sistema inspired organisations that carry out or aspire to carry out activity as described in Sistema Europe’s Core Values, Programme Principles and Methodology document (document appended below) to join the network. Such Organisations do not need to subscribe to every detail of the core document, but rather to its general spirit. The document is not a finished statement (which it is felt would be contrary to the spirit of El Sistema), but an approved current Sistema Europe statement, subject to further agreed change by members.

B. Benefits of being a member of the Sistema Europe network:

  1. Access to a network in which to share, develop and learn about Sistema practice in Europe, plan joint projects, attend joint events, seek advice and exploit joint funding opportunities.
  2. An open invitation to approach and seek guidance and advice from any other network member, particularly in order that new organisations which wish to take advantage of the expertise and experience of older and more established organisations can have an established process for doing so. It is expected that experienced Sistema Europe members will want to contribute to the development of newer projects. Thus mutual learning is a central tenet of the network.
  3. Access to all internal communications, documents and data bases of members, currently those to be found on the Sistema Europe Google Drive, the Sistema Europe LinkedIn Group, and the Google Drive calendar of European Sistema events.
  4. A space on the Sistema Europe website for all network organisations to desplay their own organisational information together with a link either to their own website or to any other virtual place where information about the Sistema member organisation is lodged.
  5. Invitations to attend, and to contribute to forming the agendas for, all Sistema Europe meetings.
  6. Contact with El Sistema Venezuela through the direct relationship of Sistema Europe to El Sistema Venezuela.
  7. Preferential access, where and when possible, to tickets for Venezuelan Sistema performance events at venues linked to network member organisations.
  8. Access to Monthly editions of the Sistema USA ‘Ensemble’ newsletter.

C. Membership Duties of Sistema Europe Network Members:

  1. Sistema Europe network member organisations agree to seek to advance the spirit of the values, practice and methodology of El Sistema in Europe, as generally described in the Core Values,  Programme Principles and Methodology document.
  2. All member organisations agree to contribute up to date information to the Board about their projects, and give permission for this information to be held on the Sistema Europe Google Drive, Google Calendar and website. This information must consist of:
    i)   a minimum of four (4) sentences describing the member programme
    ii)  a picture of the programme
    iii) an accurate contact list for purposes of communication with Sistema Europe
    Members agree to update this information twice a year in January and July of each year.



This document is an edited amalgam of work from various people.
Anyone may use this document as long as they attribute this version’s origin to Sistema Europe and link to  

Version as at 18 July 2012 by Marshall Marcus

Core Values of El Sistema

1. Human Rights
Every human being has the right to a life of dignity, achievement, and contribution to society.

2. Social Duties
Society works at its best when people invest their energies to help others to develop socially so that others’ human rights are protected and their potential fulfilled.

3. Strengthening the Spirit
A key means to overcoming poverty and adversity in order for people to achieve their human rights is for their spirits to be strengthened, creating what Maestro Abreu has called “an affluence of the spirit.”

4. Trusting Young People
Effective education should include love, approval, joy and experience within a demanding, aspiring, nurturing community. Every child has limitless possibilities and the ability – and need – to strive for excellence. “Trust the young” informs every aspect of the work.

5. Continual Development
Learning organizations, like individuals, never arrive but are always in the process of ‘becoming’, striving to include more students, greater excellence and better teaching. That eternal striving means that flexibility, experimentation, creativity, and risk-taking are inherent and desirable aspects of every person’s and every organisation’s development, as is a lack of fear of failure, today’s failure merely being the springboard for tomorrow’s success rather than an impediment to future growth.

Core Programme Principles which realise El Sistema’s Core Values

1. Music as a joyful agent of Social Change
El Sistema is a social improvement and youth development program that uses playing music together as its vehicle. Students are encouraged to feel an ownership of the music making process as an aid to their social development, taking responsibility for both individual and group improvement. They often take on teaching roles themselves starting at an early age. In addition, the programme encourages music to be used as an agent of joyful expression – passion first, refinement second – and joy to be one of the core energies of the process.

2. Access and Excellence
El Sistema includes as many children as it can, bringing young people into its community whenever possible, as young as possible, for as long as possible, whatever their background or abilities. As El Sistema strives single- mindedly toward musical excellence for all students, it also provides intensive training for the most committed and gifted, preparing them for the highest-level national orchestras and cultivating them as leaders in their own communities. In this way and others, the ideals of access and excellence are maintained in a productive balance that aims to maximize both the fullest success and highest accomplishment for all.

3. Free and Open to All
The work of El Sistema through the Núcleos is free and open to everyone in the environs of the Núcleo regardless of ability to pay.

4. The Support of the Núcleo Environment
The Núcleo is a physical location, within the students’ neighbourhood, that embodies the values and goals of El Sistema. It is a haven of safety, fun, joy, and friendship, with an ethos of support, positivity and aspiration, where all students are encouraged to explore their potential, and a place that enables every child to feel like an asset within her or his community, both inside and outside of the Núcleo. The Núcleo’s doors are always open, and community members convene in its hallways as much as its halls as a semi-public space.

5. Immersion and Intensity
Students spend a large amount of time at the Núcleo, many hours per day, and almost all days of the week, with an ideal level of at least four hours per day, six days per week. Rehearsals are fast paced and rigorous, demanding a durable commitment, personal responsibility, and a strong work ethic. Through frequent performances, students have many opportunities to excel and to share their accomplishments with their peers, family and community.

6. The Role of Ensemble
The learning in El Sistema is based in ensemble experience in which group achievement is balanced with individualized attention. The orchestra acts as a model society in which an atmosphere of competition between individuals is replaced by shared struggle. As Maestro Abreu comments, “The orchestra is the only group that comes together with the sole purpose of agreement.” Smaller ensembles and choruses adopt the same ethos.

7. Holistic Development
Those who work in Núcleos take on many jobs and multiple roles in relationship to the students. By using the CATS model and acting as Citizens, Artists, Teachers and Scholars, these adults encourage their students to develop holistically: as active musicians, helpful educators, inquisitive learners and responsible civic contributors. For example, students often take on teaching roles themselves starting at an early age, and mentoring is a natural activity and a valuable technique for all ages.

8. The Lifelong Continuum
El Sistema provides a continuous train of services, supporting its students from early childhood into adulthood. Despite variation in resources and practices, all Núcleos work towards a full program. The aim is that academies, colleges, schools and other music education and performance organisations help to create a through line for every child’s learning, through sequential repertoire, orchestral levels, and shared pedagogical practices. Although each Núcleo is encouraged to develop programs that suit its own community, shared practices and unified vision allow El Sistema to provide its students with a continuous musical experience.

9. Families and communities
Family participation and community involvement are essential aspirations of El Sistema. Siblings often go to the same Núcleo, parents attend classes with the youngest students, and families form the bulk of the audience at orchestra concerts. Many sites have parent musical ensembles, and all actively work to involve the community at large through outreach concerts. Through El Sistema work, families and communities are strengthened, and collaborations between them boosted.

10. Connections and networks
Although Núcleos run independently and often customize their programs they are all strongly connected to the worldwide Sistema movement and to the fundamental lead of Venezuela’s Sistema, and sometimes also connected through country and regional programmes and associations, all of which give the world network a unified vision. These independent yet interdependent relationships are manifested through events such as Sistema Festivals, Residencies and “seminarios,” the latter of which are intensive, project-based musical retreats where orchestras share repertoire, streamline technique, and build personal and institutional relationships. By uniting students and teachers throughout the world the Núcleo networks embody the El Sistema ideals of sharing and learning.

El Sistema Core Methodology

El Sistema is a tested model of how a music program can both create great musicians and dramatically change the life trajectory of hundreds of thousands of a nation’s neediest kids. El Sistema’s approach to music education emphasizes intensive ensemble participation from the earliest stages, group learning, peer teaching and a commitment to keeping the joy and fun of musical learning and music making ever-present. Sometimes referred to as “passion first/refinement second,” the El Sistema methodology is in marked contrast to much of music education training outside of Latin America. The backbone of El Sistema student training is preparation for participation in orchestral ensembles, which are at the soul of the Núcleo community and culture. Of equal importance is choral singing and various other ensembles, which adapt well to a diversity of musical genres and origins.

1. Learning Sequence
Kids of preschool age begin with work on body expressiveness and rhythm. Encouraging the children to keep their bodies active while playing (without losing technique) is a key feature of the program in later years. At around age 4-5, children pick up their first instruments. Kids can change instruments but are not encouraged to do so frivolously.

2. Instruction
Early instruction includes singing and playing with the student’s instrument, often focusing on a single note within a group song; this helps to develop a sense of quality sound. Learning how to use full standard notation often takes many years and is incorporated into their learning organically. There are three levels of practice every week: full ensemble work, section work and private lessons. Students often encounter the same teacher in both their group and personal lessons. This allows student to progress quickly, as bad habits are quickly corrected and good habits are regularly enforced.

3. Learning through Performing
Students play in front of audiences as much as possible. This reduces the pressure of formal performance, and allows performing to become a natural part of their musical life. Students frequently watch their fellow students perform, allowing them to both see and be inspired by the accomplishments of their peers. From a young age, the students are exposed to the variety of orchestras within the system, from the lowest level to the internationally successful Simón Bolívar Youth Orchestra.

4. The Environment
El Sistema’s primary focus is to create a daily haven of safety, joy and fun that builds every child’s self-esteem and sense of value. Discipline is relaxed but enforced. Attendance is not an issue; the children want to be at their local Núcleo for themselves, their teachers and their fellow students. Hard work and true achievement are crucial to the success of El Sistema. However, a feeling of fun is never forgotten.

5. Teachers
The majority of El Sistema teachers and Núcleo leaders are former students of the program. They understand both the social and musical mission of the program — they nurture both the individual person and the musician at the same time. Teachers are able to provide individual attention to each student. If they notice a child has missed a second day at the Núcleo without prior notice, they often go to the home to enquire about the absence.

6. Curriculum
In Venezuela El Sistema has a national curriculum, including an established musical sequence. However, local leaders can customize their program. The entire musical curriculum starts with simple arrangements of big pieces with big sound. These masterworks are often reintroduced as the children progress through the system. As Gustavo Dudamel says, “We have lived our whole lives inside these pieces. When we play Beethoven’s Fifth, it is the most important thing happening in the world.”

7. Music
El Sistema Venezuela introduces its students to both internationally known classical composers and Latin American composers and Venezuelan folk musicians. Similarly other national programmes will likely want to integrate these composers with local and national classical and folk music.

8. Work with parents
El Sistema takes considerable time working with the parents of students. For a child of age 2 or 3, teachers make home visits to ensure that the family understands the level of commitment required of them. As the students begin to learn their instruments, teachers instruct parents on how best to support their child’s practice schedule at home, giving feedback and encouragement. If a student gets into a youth or city orchestra, they will receive a stipend; this not only honours his/her accomplishments but places real value on the music making for the family, so they don’t need to pull the child out of El Sistema to work.


5 thoughts on “SISTEMA EUROPE: Membership & Values

  1. Jack Maguire

    Hello Marshall,
    We worked together many years ago. I was co-leader of the BSO until recently.
    I now run a “Sistema” style project Coda Fiddle Orchestra (see parents site click on the BBC link)
    We took part in the Simon Bolivar Nucleo at the RFH in June. We are looking for more Performance opportunities outside of our Bournemouth base.
    Can you advise us?
    Should we be joining Sistema UK?
    Best wishes
    Jack Maguire, Director
    tel 07973863380
    land 01202 399114

  2. Pingback: Upbeat about Sistema-inspired music programmes: how they are raising the bar for children in deprived areas | IOE LONDON BLOG

  3. Marc Togonal

    We are an El Sistema Inspired Music Program located in east from France.
    We wish to develop encounters with other countries programs.

  4. Marshall Marcus Post author

    Hi Marc, can you send any details of who you are what you do and what you would like from Sistema Europe? Maybe also en e mail address. Thanks Marshall Marcus

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