Sistema Australia

By This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .  Published in Music Forum magazine, Vol 18 Issue 2 (February 2012)

Crashendo! - The Laverton El Sistema-based Music Project


In August 2008, Sistema Australia was established to create a music program to change the lives of Australian children and young people – particularly those within communities suffering from disadvantage and disassociation.

In May 2011, our first music pilot began at Laverton, in Melbourne, with 30 primary school children. ‘Crashendo!’, as the pilot program is called, is based on the 36-year long social action phenomenon known as ‘El Sistema’ – ‘The System’ – from Venezuela in South America.

Crashendo OrchestraIt was established by a Venezuelan economist and classical pianist, Jose Antonio Abreu; he sought to bring his love of beautiful classical music to children in Venezuela, especially those from the barrios or slums of the major cities there. It grew from the creation of a small children's orchestra back in 1975, to a Venezuela-wide, 300,000-strong, children's and youth orchestra and choir federation - supporting over 250 orchestras and choirs daily.

El Sistema has now spread around the world, with similar programs underway in the USA, Scotland, England, Canada, New Zealand, Spain, Austria and several South American countries. There are over 50 separate projects in the USA alone. Whilst Australia has quite different conditions from Venezuela, similar issues also severely affect our country – poverty, social inequity and youth disassociation are increasing, particularly in our ever-expanding urban environments, which lead to similar negative effects to those experienced in many countries around the world. Crashendo! was established with the following principles:

  • The provision of an intensive music program for children, within the community of an orchestra, based on instrumental tuition in the context of ensemble and choir;
  • Making music and creating music available to all who want it - being inclusive;
  • Child-centric and focused;
  • Learning by doing;
  • Seeking and expecting excellence in music making;
  • Providing a rich and powerful repertoire of difficult music;
  • Using the natural inclination of children to share and help each other learn things they know - every child is a teacher;
  • Providing love and joy through attention and application - always encouraging, never demoting;
  • Providing a safe environment to both fail and learn;
  • Allowing children of all backgrounds and upbringings to work together in mutual harmony.

Crashendo! is a tribute to collaboration - the Victoria Police, Hobsons Bay Council and Laverton College have partnered with Sistema Australia to establish this program. Each brings financial and/or in-kind support to the program. It is a vital and active relationship which has created a significant undertaking to change the face of their community.

The Laverton project is also a part of the Victorian Cultural Renewal program set up to develop important cultural ties within the community - to build and develop a cohesive and healthy community in Victoria. It is a community music program first and foremost, and uses the power of music not only to enrich the lives of the children but to change the way communities work as well.

The happiest by-product of this is the development of wonderful musician children who reap the benefit of an intensive six hour plus orchestra/choir-based music program each week of the school term. No equivalent program exists in Australia.

The music process is simple yet powerful. We build orchestras and choirs by taking the children on a musical journey, from having little or no knowledge or skills of music to becoming capable instrumental and choral musicians who not only can play and sing music but do so in the context of a community of musicians– the orchestra and choir.

It subtly but powerfully develops teamwork, self-esteem, patience, respect, focus and concentration whilst building a musician out of the child. It imbues its participants with a level of socialisation unmatched in similar activities, such as sport or general youth activity schemes; making music is an intrinsic part of being human; making music together forms bonds based on friendship, teamwork, trust, respect, solidarity, harmony, mutual compassion and joy.

Recently Laverton College compiled a small survey to review what the parents have perceived of the effects of the program on their children, on them and on their families. These were the results:

1. Changes in their children's level of confidence as a result of Crashendo!

90% said that they had noticed an overall increase in their children's confidence.

2. Changes in their children's general happiness resulting from Crashendo!

95% reported an increase in the general happiness of their children

3. Effects on the children socially:

90% of the children have made more friends through the program

4. Changes in their children's hopes for their own future?

95% noticed a positive change in their children's hope for the future.

5. Changes that have led to an overall change in behaviour at home.

80% reported improved behaviour at home.

6. Changes in respect towards family of children involved with Crashendo!

75% reported a greater level of respect from their children.

7. Changes in the level of activities together as a family.

60% reported that they do more together as a family now.

8. Changes to the amount of activities done as a family as a result of Crashendo!:

65% get on better as a family now, post program.

9. Crashendo! making a difference to the parents:

70% stated that they are more confident as parents as a result of this program.

95% of parents report they are more positive about their child's future now.

Whilst these results are very much subjective, it reflects a tremendous outcome for a program which has been running for only six months, and points to the powerful social repercussions of such a program in a community, here as in Venezuela. The positive impact on the children has spread beyond them and into the parent community. And musically, they have flourished too, performing their first string orchestra concert after only eight weeks of learning on their new instruments!

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