The power of music education was showcased this week at Liberty Hall in Tyler through a documentary featuring impoverished Venezuelan children rising up out of violent slums.
Although East Texas offers a completely different environment, some Tyler community leaders say the program, or one like it, could be duplicated here for the benefit of children.
For Hispanic Heritage Month, the Hispanic Professionals Association of Tyler and the East Texas Symphony Orchestra on Thursday screened “El Sistema,” a film about the program of the same name that takes children from poor communities and turns them into world-class musicians.
El Sistema is a music education program founded in Venezuela in 1975 by Venezuelan educator, musician and activist Jose Antonio Abreu. The organization has now become global, with El Sistema programs in the U.S, Canada and some European countries.
Octavio Tellez, of the Hispanic Professionals Association of Tyler and a board member of the East Texas Symphony Orchestra, organized the event to educate people about Latin America. He believes something similar to El Sistema could come to Tyler in the future.
“Of course, there’s an opportunity to develop it. We just need to get the people together and hopefully the screening will help that,” Tellez said.
After the screening, Fabiola Caravallo, an El Sistema alumna, said the experience in the program planted a seed in her that grew into a passion for music.
“I know that I can do something with music (because of El Sistema),” Caravallo said.
Now a Moore Middle School student in Tyler, she is a member of the school’s student orchestra.
Caravallo sang “Venezuela” a cappella, which is considered a second national anthem for the nation and is very special to its people, she said.
Tellez said there are many ways to get kids out of violence through music education, such as what has happened for Venezuelan kids in El Sistema. The children could have music rather than other things like guns, knives, video games or television, he said.
Felix Torres, East Texas Youth Orchestra artistic and executive director and conductor, said after the screening that a program like El Sistema is “without a question something we should be pursuing.”
He said people hear a lot about science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education, but not a lot about STEAM, which includes arts in the conversation. There’s something missing when testing and STEM-type courses are overly emphasized, he added.
“We want to raise more well-rounded adults to be a part of the community,” Torres said.
Vanessa Gardner, East Texas Symphony Orchestra executive director, said the documentary helps to show different models for music education and that students involved in music are more likely to succeed in life.
A program similar to El Sistema is a part of the conversation as a goal or idea, but nothing has officially been planned, Gardner said.
The screening and discussion were followed by a reception with Latin American foods prepared by chef Lance McWhorter of Culture ETX.
Hispanic Professionals Association of Tyler and the East Texas Symphony Orchestra are partnering for events in honor of Hispanic Heritage Month, which is celebrated from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15 annually. The duo teamed up for a concert with music from Mexico, Argentina, Spain, Brazil and the U.S. on Sept. 14 at the R. Don Cowan Fine and Performing Arts Center.