How Music Improves the Lives of Children

As research acknowledges the benefits that music brings to children and teens, a moral dilemma exists in American communities. Many schools can no longer afford to offer music programs for children. For those living in poverty, the access to music training is often nonexistent. Will we become a nation where only the wealthy can afford music lessons for youth? Or will we use the power of music to increase children's success in life and raise them out of poverty?

Americans are beginning to take action.  Last year, one community took on a challenging mission, to bring classical music training to children in a migrant farming area of California.  Few of the children's families spoke English, and their community had been designated a High Intensity Gang Area. The new program, Youth Orchestra Salinas (YOSAL), is a collaborative partnership of community leaders.  The program is demanding. Children attend lessons and group practice five days a week, three hours each day.  Participation is voluntary and free for all students. In less than a year, more than 80 children became regular participants. Already, improvements in school attendance and achievement are being noted.

El Sistema, the program on which YOSAL is based, began more than 35 years ago in a parking garage in Venezuela by Dr. Jose Antonio Abreu. Since its meager beginnings, El Sistema has grown to include many "nucleo" orchestras that now teach ensemble music to 300,000 of Venezuela's poorest children, demonstrating how music can positively change the lives of a nation's youth and the communities to which they belong.

Over three decades ago in Venezuela one man dreamed of a better world for children living in poverty: “give children musical instruments and they will never carry a gun: teach them to play classical orchestra music and they will learn how to live a meaningful life. “

That man was Dr. Jose Antonio Abreu. Dr. Abreu gathered 11 children in a parking garage in Caracas, Venezuela to play classical music. The organization and its many nuclei orchestras now teach ensemble music to 300,000 of Venezuela’s poorest children, demonstrating how family-school-community partnerships in the arts can positively change the lives of a nation’s youth and the communities to which they belong.

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