There is something quite ineffable about music. It is an invisible language, mysterious and powerful at the same time. You cannot see music but you can feel it. It embraces anyone who would be called to listen to and participate in it. Its effects transcend any scholarly explanations. The properties of this physical phenomenon can probably be best described in spiritual or even ethical terms. As an artist and educator, I often ask myself the question, “Why is music important?” And more specifically, “What can music do to help us thrive as people?” The practice of music invites us to embolden our creative spirits and often begets spaces of beauty. These are tremendous opportunities for anyone, yet the presence of these in the life of a poor child can be the best antidote and hope that he may have to succeed through the challenges of life. When a child in need is given a musical instrument, he discovers a new and hopeful voice framed in harmony that elevates a sometime fragile human condition.
In El Sistema, we recognize music as a fundamental right and as a social action in service to others. An “art at the service of those who cry for vindication and the raising up of the dignity,” as Jose Antonio Abreu would explain. To better understand the essence of our work let us also ponder the words of Mother Teresa of Calcutta as she often expressed, “The most miserable and tragic thing about poverty is not the lack of bread or roof, but the feeling of being no one.” And the words of Maestro Abreu, as he refers to education as the means to aspire towards something much greater than ourselves. “Education being the synthesis of wisdom and knowledge, it is the means to strive for a more perfect, more enlightened, and just society.” Both statements are as eloquent and as important to embody the work of El Sistema.
In doing this work, we believe that all children should be valued and that investing in a participatory and collective music education is the means to achieve a positive and lasting social change in their lives. We strive to provide the best opportunities—which include the best teachers, instruments, and infrastructure to show our students and families that we are committed to their success. Even at the very nascent stages of the Oklahoma City program we are already seeing many smiles and shining eyes. “Thank you for giving Adrian a second chance,” one parent said, “No one believes in him, but you do.” This is precisely what we aspire to. To believe. To have faith on the infinite potential of our youth and in the aspirations of families who seek for a better life. And we are using music as the vehicle. It is our best hope to help make a difference.