A new scholarly paper by Luiz Botelho-Gomes, for his graduate degree program at Webster University in St. Louis, Missouri, U.S.A., focuses on El Sistema youth orchestras as vehicles for positive social change, and includes case studies of Sistema programs in three Portuguese-speaking countries: Portugal, Brazil, and Mozambique.
Botelho-Gomes grounds his study in the framework of several major 20th-century philosophical constructs, most prominently Paolo Friere’s liberation philosophy and Carl Roger’s humanistic psychology. He focuses on theories of oppression as an internal state as well as an external reality, and freedom as dependent upon the possibility of reflection and hope. His central contention is that orchestras for at-risk youth provide pathways to hopefulness and self-actualization. “If depression cannot kill the ability to feel pleasure, and if even depressed children can prove themselves effective,” he writes, “therein lies the pathway through which the success of a youth orchestra, a laborious endeavor though it is, can become a reality.”
Following this philosophical framing, the scholarly work then provides a detailed account of José Antonio Abreu’s founding of El Sistema, and of the development and major characteristics of the Sistema in Venezuela. It then goes on to present the three case studies of youth orchestras for at-risk youth: ASSATEMEC, near São Paolo, Brazil; Orquestra Geração, in Lisbon, Portugal; and XIQUITSI, in Maputo, Mozambique. For each of these three orchestras, he provides a detailed examination of its history, finances, and management; its social aspects; its pedagogical aspects; and its musical/artistic aspects.
Botelho-Gomes’s analysis is thorough, well-reasoned, and full of vivid insights into the work of El Sistema. A key element of his conclusion is that El Sistema ensembles work because they “infuse artistic work with faith and trust.”
To obtain a copy of the scholarly paper, contact the author here.