Geoffrey Baker, a music lecturer at Royal Holloway University in Londcon has written a critical book on El Sistema, published by Oxford University Press. In his book, Geoffrey Baker explores the career of the founder of the Venezuelan youth music program, José Antonio Abreu, and the ideology and organizational dynamics of his institution. His conclusion’s are astonishing.

Drawing on a year of fieldwork in Venezuela and interviews with Venezuelan musicians and cultural figures, Baker examines El Sistema’s program of « social action through music, » reassessing widespread beliefs about the system as a force for positive social change. Abreu, a Nobel Peace Prize nominee, emerges as a complex and controversial figure, whose project is shaped by his religious education, economics training, and political apprenticeship. Claims for the symphony orchestra as a progressive pedagogical tool and motor of social justice are questioned, and assertions that the program prioritizes social over musical goals and promotes civic values such as democracy, meritocracy, and teamwork are also challenged.

Placing El Sistema in historical and comparative perspective, Baker reveals that it is far from the revolutionary social program of contemporary imagination, representing less the future of classical music than a step backwards into its past. « El Sistema fails the country’s most deprived children », says Geoff Baker. « I found many Sistema musicians unconvinced by claims that the project was aimed at Venezuela’s most vulnerable children. Pointing to a lack of mechanisms for consistently targeting this demographic, they suggested that most musicians came from the middle levels of society. »

In a critical Guardian article, Baker asked if El Sistema ist not, in fact, for the involved musicians, kind of a model of tyranny?

His thoughts have generated many comments, most of them defending the institution and pointing out its values.

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